Review of Breaking and Holding by Judy Fogarty--and a giveaway!

[Update: Giveaway closed. Winner: Tonya!]

I read BREAKING AND HOLDING by Judy Fogarty for a blog tour. A blog tour is essentially a virtual book tour where an author is featured on a bunch book blogs over a short period of time. (Incidentally, THE HIDEAWAY will be featured in a future blog tour with this group, TLC Blog Tours. I'll let you know when that starts!)

 

Here's a summary of BREAKING AND HOLDING:

For Patricia Curren, the summer of 1978 begins with a devastating discovery: an unfamiliar black pearl button in the bed she shares with her controlling husband, Jack. Seeking the courage to end her desolate marriage, Patricia spends a quiet summer alone on beautiful Kiawah Island. But when she meets Terry Sloan, a collegiate tennis player trying to go pro, their physical attraction sparks a slow burn toward obsession.

Once Patricia and Terry share closely guarded secrets from their pasts, they want more than a summer together. But their love soon fractures, as a potential sponsor takes an unusually keen interest in Terry—both on court and off. And when single, career-driven Lynn Hewitt arrives, other secrets must surface, including the one Patricia has kept from Terry all summer.

An intimate portrait of the folly of the human heart, Breaking and Holding explores buried truths that are startlingly unveiled. What’s left in their wake has the power not only to shatter lives…but to redeem them.

I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and I'm still thinking about it. It is heartbreaking and tragic and steamy and sweet. The author spun an incredible web for these characters. Every time I thought I knew what would happen, she took them (and us) down yet another dark and twisting path. Other reviewers have said this a great beach read, and I suppose to the extent that much of it occurs over one summer at the beach (Kiawah Island, SC, in 1978), that’s true. But this wasn’t a light and easy-breezy read for me. With a dysfunctional marriage, addiction, secrets, and abuse plus a tender and sweet romance, friendship, longing, and hope, the author made me care about the main characters, as flawed and damaged and unreliable as they were, and hope for good endings for them, though for much of the book, that seemed a total pipe dream. It was so unpredictable! Right up until the very last pages, I had no idea how things would turn out for them, which to me, is a hallmark of great suspense. 

I also really enjoyed her style of writing. It was whip-smart, at times funny, and for a book with so much romance, it never veered into cheesy or saccharine for me. And bonus if you are a tennis fan, as I am. I loved hearing about the Connors/Borg/McEnroe rivalries, and she used tennis analogies that made my jaw drop. I will be looking with great anticipation for her next book. 

**This is not a knock on the book, but for more sensitive readers, I feel like I need to say this—if you’re looking for clean, PG-rated fun, this may not be the book for you. It has a great deal of "adult situations" and coarse language. If you'd rather not have that in your books, I'd suggest trying something else. 

I have one copy of BREAKING AND HOLDING to give away! Just leave a comment here and tell me your favorite tennis rivalry...or if you know nothing about tennis, tell me your favorite book. I'll pick a winner on Wednesday!

Find Judy on her website, Facebook, or Twitter. Purchase the book here.

Bookish People: Joy Callaway

I'm so excited to be back with my next installment of the Bookish People interviews! This month, it's Joy Callaway, author of The Fifth Avenue Artists Society (available here!). The story follows a family of sisters during the Gilded Age of New York City. It's a love story combined with tragedy and heartbreak, and the period details (clothes, street scenes, etc) are enthralling. (Bonus--on Instagram, she often posts photos of period dress and homes from that period of time.)



1.     Give us a quick overview of the book(s) you’ve written.

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society
This is a story of secrets and family and history, but principally it’s about love, based on my great-great grandmother and her artistic siblings on the outskirts of Gilded Age New York high society. Pitched by its publisher as Edith Wharton-meets-Little Women, my main character, Ginny Loftin, is an aspiring novelist caught between the boy next door and a mysterious author who inducts her into Manhattan’s most elite artistic salon. Glitter and glamour aside, the story is really about what it means to be both a woman and an artist, and sounds the emotional depths Ginny is willing explore to protect her art, her family, and her chance at love.

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Secret Sisters (Harper, 7.11.17)
This story is based on the founding of the country’s first sororities! 

Illinois, 1881: Whitsitt College sophomore Beth Carrington has two goals to fulfill by the time she graduates: obtain a medical degree, and establish a women’s fraternity, Beta Xi Beta, that will help young women like herself to connect with and support one another while attending the male-dominated Whitsitt.

Neither is an easy task. The sole female student in the physicians’ program, Beth is constantly called out by her professors and peers for having the audacity not to concentrate on a more “fitting” subject like secretarial studies. Meanwhile, secret organizations are off-limits, and simply by crowding together in a dank basement room and creating a sense of camaraderie, she and her small group of fraternity sisters risk expulsion.

In order to have the fraternity recognized, she knows she needs help. She turns to the most powerful student on campus: senior Grant Richardson, Iota Gamma fraternity president and the scion of a Whitsitt family—a man she’s only acquainted with because of her longstanding friendship with his fraternity brother Will Buchannan. Staunchly traditional, Grant doesn’t see the purpose of this women’s organization, but captivated by Beth, he agrees to give her a helping hand. What she doesn’t know is how many will stop at nothing to keep her burgeoning organization out of the record books—and who she can actually trust along the way.

As Beth fights for her beloved Beta Xi Beta to be recognized, she will uncover deep secrets about the college and those who surround her, and will have to put both love and friendship on the line so that history can be made.

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2.     What’s the hardest or best criticism you’ve received, either after your book was published or as you were editing, revising, or getting feedback.

I’ll lead off here by saying that I actually love criticism so long as it’s productive. I have a great group of critique partners who have read my work since my attempts at books that will never ever become real books and their advice is invaluable. I remember sending Fifth Avenue to my friend Renee and she immediately told me that this was “the one”. I trust them immensely and they never hold back if things need to be reworked or changed. I also have a ridiculously smart agent, Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, whose eye is always spot-on, and an editor, Emily Griffin, whose comments always challenge me.

Worst criticism=Goodreads. If you’re an author, resist the urge to look!

3.     Funniest (or best or worst) thing that happened during a book signing or book tour?

My Costco signings were always so fun and often hilarious. I think it’s just a consequence of the variety of shoppers, but I had people stopping by my signing table telling me that they can vouch for the fact that UFOs and mermaids exist, that I should write about their grandma’s great-uncle’s cousin who was in the CIA, etc.

4.     Describe your writing process. Is it orderly, scheduled, daily? Erratic, middle-of-the-night, gimme-a-piece-of-paper now? Or something in between?

It used to be orderly…sort of. I would put my two kids down for an afternoon nap, rush downstairs and write for an hour in the midst of Minnie Mouse stuffed animals, race cars, and puzzles, but now my three-year-old has quit napping, so I’m still trying to figure out a new routine. Right now it’s pretty erratic.

5.     Is there a topic/theme/setting you’re particularly interested in that you’d like to write about in a future book?

I’m interested in everything. Honestly. It’s sort of a downfall. I spend hours looking up historical tidbits that I never actually write about. But, generally speaking, I’m always most interested in American history from the Revolution through World War II. And, I don’t really get very excited about writing well-known historical events. I like taking little-known but remarkable occurrences and giving them a stage. 

6.     What’s the strangest/most inappropriate place you’ve ever brought a book? (Example, a family dinner, a baseball game, etc.)

I’ve brought books about everywhere you can imagine, but maybe my most frequent inappropriate place is the bathroom when I’m trying to sneak in one more chapter and hiding from my kids. 

7.     Tell me a few recent books you’ve read that you really liked.

Last Ride to Graceland by Kim Wright—Even if you’re not an Elvis fan, this book is amazing. Kim always writes such compelling stories and Last Ride to Graceland is Southern voice at its finest. I also just had a dream that I was Honey (one of the characters in this book) and I rarely dream. It’s that good.

Fates and Traitors by Jennifer Chiaverini—I love the depth of Jennifer’s research and this book is just phenomenal. It follows the women involved in John Wilkes Booth’s life and it’s harrowing and gripping and fascinating.

Goodnight From London by Jennifer Robson—This book isn’t out until May, but everyone should pre-order it immediately. Jennifer’s books are always so rich and this one is no different. It’s based in World War II London, and the main character, Ruby Sutton, is an inspiring, strong reporter whose unrelenting passion for her work and those she loves is a wonderful tribute to the real heroines of the press during the war.

8.     Can you name a book you liked that you didn’t think you would? Maybe because of the subject matter, or an author you didn’t think you enjoyed, or a genre you weren’t used to reading.

To be honest, I’m sort of a reading wimp. I generally stick to women’s fiction or historical fiction, but, interestingly enough, some of my critique partners write thrillers and fantasy and I LOVE reading what they write.

9.     What are your pet peeves as a reader—something you read in books that really bugs you?

I REALLY dislike accents that aren’t done realistically. It just zaps you out of the narrative.

10.  Books: print or e-reader? Similarly, calendar: paper or electronic?

Paper all the way! I actually don’t have an e-reader or an electronic calendar.

11.  Chocolate or vanilla?

Both!

12.  Coffee or tea? Or something else?

Coffee with coconut cream.

13.  Tell us what you’re working on now.

I’ve just started working on a really really fun project—my first attempt at dual POV. It’s set in West Virginia in the 1830s.

You can find Joy on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and

Thanks Joy, and thank you for reading!

3 months from today!!

What my life looks like these days (although imagine more cardboard boxes and dust. Lots of dust.)

A few days ago I was cleaning out stacks and drawers of papers (writers have LOTS of random stacks of paper hanging around) and I found my very first draft of The Hideaway! It was like finding an old friend I'd lost touch with. Along with it was the first timeline I drew to figure out Mags's life and random notes I jotted down on a piece of construction paper because I couldn't find real notebook paper. 

I threw a lot of unnecessary papers away (like the foot-tall stack of edits from THE CARTEL (you know who you are...) but I'm not getting rid of these. It's good to keep reminders of all the work that went into The Hideaway. As if I could forget! 

I'm going through all these papers (and closets and kitchen cabinets and under beds) because we are moving. As if digging into revisions on book 2 isn't enough chaos in my life, we decided now would be a good time to move. Just kidding--a little. It is a good time to move--we are outgrowing our sweet little house and want more room to spread out--but I have to work to keep from panicking that I'm spending my time working on the house and not on revisions. I have started revisions though--the break from the story over the holidays was wonderful and I'm kind of excited to be getting back into the story, even though I know I have a lot of hard work ahead of me. Three months until this second book is due to my editor.

And three months until release of The Hideaway! I'm still waiting on the advance copies and can't wait to get them in my hands. If you have preordered the book, it'll land on your doorstep on 4/11. I have no idea what life will be like as the day approaches, but I'm excited to find out. I have heard from other authors, however, that the actual release date is quite anticlimactic. You've worked so hard to reach that day then it comes...and your day looks pretty much like every other day! But I'd imagine it will still feel pretty unbelievable. 

A few links I've stumbled across recently that I enjoyed or that made me laugh:

This woman lived quite a life and had an extraordinary career (including seeing the start of WWII from under a flapping sheet of fabric that delineated the border between Poland and Germany.)

This article features authors talking about how you can write a bestseller and still hardly make any money--or at least, not for a long time. "At times, the entire fiction-writing profession resembles a pyramid scheme swathed in a dewy mist of romantic yearning." 

Chris Stapleton? I'm way behind the times. I just discovered him today on Amazon Music and wow--he's pretty great. I'm not generally a country fan so when I hear about a new male country artist, it tends to go in one ear and out the other because they all seem to be part of the "bro-country" trend (yes, that's apparently a thing, and it perfectly describes the type of country music that really grates on my nerves!) But this guy isn't that at all. He's the real deal, a throw-back to great country-rock artists from decades ago , but also really fresh and new. Here's a video of him performing on SNL. 

 

Lastly, Matt and I have been rewatching The Office and loving it all over again. I leave you with Jim and Dwight. 

Bookish People--Emily Carpenter

It's been a while, guys! I'll update on life and books very soon, but today is the next installment of the Bookish People interviews. I'm excited to feature Emily Carpenter, author of Burying the Honeysuckle Girls (available here!), a Southern Gothic romp full of suspense, secrets, and mysteries. Much of the book takes place in the Mobile area and Birmingham, my two homes, so it was especially fun for me!

1.     Give us a quick overview of the book(s) you’ve written.
Burying the Honeysuckle Girls is a southern gothic suspense novel set in Alabama and The Weight of Lies is…a southern gothic suspense novel set in Georgia. They don’t sound different but I promise they actually are!

2.     What’s the hardest or best criticism you’ve received, either after your book was published or as you were editing, revising, or getting feedback.
Somebody called Honeysuckle Girls misogynistic and said I must hate men, because the villains happened to be men. That stung because I was trying to tell a very particular story that did involve abuse—and trying to be unflinching about it. I never thought someone would think I approved of the abuse, so that was disappointing. But it’s part of being an author. Sometimes you’re misunderstood.

3.     Funniest (or best or worst) thing that happened during a book signing or book tour?
This isn’t funny really, but it is the best. For my launch party, my sister made all the food. And she did this incredible centerpiece modeled after something from the book—an old cigar box with all these clues passed down from generations that Althea uses to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. It was fabulous. Made me cry.

4.     Describe your writing process. Is it orderly, scheduled, daily? Erratic, middle-of-the-night, gimme-a-piece-of-paper now? Or something in between?
It’s generally pretty orderly. I’m a creature of routine, and I typically like to write while my kids are in school, after I’ve done some sort of exercise. But I do love those moments at home, over the weekend, when I happen to have some time and everybody is otherwise occupied, and I can just hang out on the sofa and pound out some words. Those have ended up being some of my most productive times.

5.     Is there a topic/theme/setting you’re particularly interested in that you’d like to write about in a future book?
I’d really love to do a ghost story one day. Really, really, really. Set in a spooky house. I’m obsessed with spooky houses.

6.     What’s the strangest/most inappropriate place you’ve ever brought a book? (Example, a family dinner, a baseball game, etc.)
I think I probably smuggled a book into church a time or two when I was a kid.

7.     Tell me a few recent books you’ve read that you really liked.
Kate Moretti’s The Vanishing Year and Becky Albertalli’s forthcoming The Upside of Unrequited. Two books that are vastly different but both fantastic.

8.     Can you name a book you liked that you didn’t think you would? Maybe because of the subject matter, or an author you didn’t think you enjoyed, or a genre you weren’t used to reading.
I had no idea I was going to love the Twilight books the way I did. I mean, I don’t consider myself a literary snob or anything, but a YA vampire book? I thought I was going to be hate-reading it or something, you know, like oh, this silly book that everybody likes…. As it turned out, I was ridiculously into every one of them. I cried on a plane reading one of them because apparently obsessive love really speaks to me. Also, gorgeous, self-sacrificing vampires.

9.     What are your pet peeves as a reader—something you read in books that really bugs you?
In his craft book Thrill Me, Benjamin Percy calls it “feckless pondering.” In his words, “momentum killing emotional fuss.” Readers absolutely need to understand adequate backstory and some of the main character’s inner thoughts, but it has to be employed strategically. If there’s too much stopping so the main character can ponder, I can’t get into the swing of the story, and I’ll put the book down. I’m getting more conscious of it in my own writing too. I think it takes a lot of skill to boil down the necessary information that a reader needs to just the right amount. It’s much easier to go on for paragraphs, explaining how everybody thinks and feels. But it’s deadly.

10.  Books: print or e-reader? Similarly, calendar: paper or electronic?
I prefer print book, but I do read a lot of e-books. They’re just so convenient, easy to access in a pinch. I’m back to a paper calendar and I love it.

11.  Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate all the way.

12.  Coffee or tea? Or something else?
Grande two-pump mocha no-whip from Starbucks. Dark roast Community coffee on my Keurig at home.

13.  Tell us what you’re working on now.
Another southern gothic suspense novel, this one set at a couples’ therapy retreat up in the north Georgia mountains where nothing is as it seems. 

You can find Emily on all the usual social media spots and on her website here

Thanks Emily for playing and thank YOU for reading!

End of the Year Round-up

Here in Birmingham, we are sitting at about 50 degrees outside, but word is tonight an arctic front is blowing though, plunging us into the 20s. As a certifiable "cold person," I'm already cold just thinking about those temps. In fact, I'm pretty darn cold here in the 50s, so there may be no hope for me come tomorrow morning. The upside is that it does help foster the Christmas spirit, since it just feels like it should be chilly around the holidays. In the deep south, we know all about Decembers when we run the AC like it's September, so the crisp air is (sort of) nice. 

Since I last posted here, I finished the first draft of book #2...twice. I finished it a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, but a few days later decided I wasn't ready to let it sit just yet. I went back in and reworked a couple bits that I knew needing fixing, then officially typed "the end." My head has still been partly in that story since I was still in my writing workshop the last couple of weeks, but that ended last night so now I can have a true break from Betsy, Ty, and Jenna until January. 

What have I been doing with the extra time on my hands? Reading--a lot! And it's been fabulous. Since I don't have to be up at the crack of dawn with my brain firing on (mostly) all cylinders, I've been waking up to read. (I still have to wake up early. Even though the kids are in school, I love the early morning quiet hours. Plus, I don't want to get out of the habit of waking up early since I'll be back at 5am in Jan.)

Right now, I'm going through a couple different Advent readings. One is Come Thou Long Expected Jesus 

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I'm also really enjoying the Advent readings in this month's selections in Seeking God's Face. 

Other books I've read the last several weeks:

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The Last Days of Night--Graham Moore. I never knew the battle surrounding the invention of the lightbulb and AC/DC current could be so fascinating. This is fantastic historical fiction about a time/subject rarely covered. I couldn't put it down. 

Ah, this book. Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton. First book in a long while that's kept me up reading til the wee hours. All I'll say is it's about a spaceship carrying 6 astronauts home to Earth after a two-year trip to Jupiter. (Two years there and back.) It's also about a man and a young girl stuck in the Arctic tundra. Something big and cataclysmic/apocalyptic has happened on Earth but the characters are so isolated, they have no idea what it is (and neither does the reader). I cannot overstate how much I loved this book. Here's a link to my review on Goodreads. 

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I just finished Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. I don't read much YA, but this was an unexpectedly charming story. The short chapters (sometimes just a page) made reading "just one more chapter" really easy, and Madeline and Olly are adorable. Almost Rainbow Rowell-adorable. It was a quick read, full of loss and life and longing. Smartly-drawn characters, witty, sweet romance.

Next up is either The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield or Leave Me by Gayle Forman. Unless I find something tempting on the library shelves this afternoon when I go with the girls.

Lastly, quick update on THE HIDEAWAY--we've finished all proofing and editing and I'm waiting to receive advance copies from the publisher. Talk about a great Christmas gift! Can't wait to hold it in my hands. April will be here very soon. Also, I met Jake Reiss of the Alabama Booksmith a few weeks ago, and he's just as nice and lovely as everyone said he was. Birmingham is lucky to have him, and book people in general are lucky he's in business. 

This may be it for me here until after Christmas. I'll try to get another Bookish People Interview up, but it may be January before we have hte next installation, so stay tuned!

 

Bookish People--Ella Joy Olsen

It's the second edition of the Bookish People interviews, and today I'm featuring author Ella Joy Olsen. Ella and I were matched as critique partners through WFWA (Women's Fiction Writers Association). She read The Hideaway for me and I had the privilege of reading her second book that will be published next year. Her debut, Root, Petal, Thorn, is out now (and available here!) Check it out if you love a blend of contemporary and historical fiction and old houses filled with heaps of history. 

 

1.     Give us a quick overview of the book(s) you’ve written.
A quick summary of my debut, Root, Petal, Thorn is: The braided stories of five fascinating women who inhabit the same historic home over the course of a century –love, heartbreak, and courage entwine each woman, and each generation, to the next.

My sophomore book Where the Sweet Bird Sings will be published in September 2017. The teaser is: Though she has a loving husband, Emma Hazelton is adrift, struggling to rebuild her life after a tragedy. But one day, a simple question and an old black-and-white photograph prompt Emma to untangle the branches of her family tree, where she discovers a legacy of secrets. What connects us to one another? Is it shared history? Is it ancestry? Is it blood? Or is it love?

2.     What’s the hardest or best criticism you’ve received, either after your book was published or as you were editing, revising, or getting feedback.
After processing the thoughtful feedback from a critique partner, I realized I have to keep my characters out of their own heads. Sometimes they (meaning I) spend too much time explaining why they are upset, sad, happy (and so on). The reader should be able to figure these things out if the rest of the story is told well.

3.     Funniest (or best or worst) thing that happened during a book signing or book tour?
I have a stalker who shows up to all of my events. He’s actually a nice old-ish guy and has a fair amount of time on his hands, apparently, because he goes to the readings of many local authors. The creepy thing is that he tags himself in all of my event photos on Facebook. I’ve had to change my settings.

4.     Describe your writing process. Is it orderly, scheduled, daily? Erratic, middle-of-the-night, gimme-a-piece-of-paper now? Or something in between?
When I’m actively creating a story I write my best stuff between about 6:00am and 10:00am. After those frenzied hours I can still work on editing, playing with language, and social media because it doesn’t require so much brainpower. I plan the days I’m going to write based on a weekly schedule and try to stick with it.

5.     Is there a topic/theme/setting you’re particularly interested in that you’d like to write about in a future book?
Dreaming of new book ideas is one of my favorite things! Every idea at conception is so perfect and lovely. A new one I’m toying with is set in the Gilded Age in NYC when scientific exploration was occurring at a rapid clip via the American Museum of Natural History. Science and conspicuous consumption all in one story.

6.     What’s the strangest/most inappropriate place you’ve ever brought a book? (Example, a family dinner, a baseball game, etc.)
Until I had a Kindle (with backlight) I spent many pre-dawn hours in hotel bathrooms reading. I’m not a great sleeper so on family vacations I’d sneak into the bathroom, flip on the light, and read propped against the bathtub for hours.

7.     Tell me a few recent books you’ve read that you really liked.
I’m trying to read as many books as I can by my writing buddies. Last month I finished The Memory of Us by Camille DiMaio, Echoes of Family by Barbara Claypole White, Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner, Sweet Carolina Morning by Susan Schild, Thought I Knew You by Kate Moretti. I am surrounded by talent. I loved them all!

8.     Can you name a book you liked that you didn’t think you would? Maybe because of the subject matter, or an author you didn’t think you enjoyed, or a genre you weren’t used to reading.
My book club read In Love and War, a memoir written by Admiral James Stockdale about his time as a POW during Vietnam. It was long, detail jammed, and written in the 1980s, so the style of writing was a little antiquated…but after getting into the story, it was fantastic and illustrated a time/political climate I knew little about. I’d read about the protests during the Vietnam War, of course, but this was written by one of the soldiers who believed solidly in country and duty.

9.     What are your pet peeves as a reader—something you read in books that really bugs you?
I’m a pretty forgiving reader and look to find something I love in every book that I read. I guess I’ll give up on a book if the characters act too often in ways that defy logic, meaning their responses are too extreme, or not justified. I also don’t love a bunch of preaching/religion in a book.

10.  Books: print or e-reader? Similarly, calendar: paper or electronic?
I always have both a print book and an e-reader and an audio book going at the same time. I love the feel of print, the backlighting of an e-reader, the multitasking option of audio. Calendar: paper. Hands down.

11.  Chocolate or vanilla?
I feel like I’m not an either/or kind of girl. Both.

12.  Coffee or tea? Or something else?
Again, both. Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.

13.  Tell us what you’re working on now.
Currently I am taking time to “fill the well”. My debut published at the beginning of September and right after that I worked long hours on content edits for Sweet Bird. I need a little time to cross a few things off my real-life list, including Christmas prep and planning a family vacation. I’m also taking time to read like crazy. However, my brain is constantly churning through new story ideas. I’ll be eager to write fresh words after the New Year.

You can find Ella on all the major social media hangouts and at her website

Thanks to Ella and to you for reading!

Odds and Ends

It's morning and the house is momentarily calm. Granted, everyone in the house is looking at a screen--the girls are sharing a Launchpad (but they're SHARING it!); Matt is catching up on a show on the computer downstairs, earbuds in place; and I'm upstairs in my cozy bed. I just started a cute new book and my mug of coffee is full. It's like a respite before next week starts. I know it's only October 30th (my parents' 40th wedding anniversary!!) but it feels like things really pick up next week, so I'm letting myself enjoy this slow Sunday. 

Here's a recap on what's going on:

THE HIDEAWAY: In case you missed how I plastered it on Facebook and Instagram (sorry, I was and am excited), I received the final PDF from my publisher last week.  The pages are designed and basically look like they'll look in the book. I think some of the typesetting may change, but other than that--and any proofreading errors I or anyone else finds at this point--it's pretty set. I have until 11/21 to get back with them about any errors I find, as well as turn in my acknowledgements and back-of-the-book discussion questions. Advance reader copies will come later this year, hopefully before the holidays. I can't wait to hold the thing in my hands. The cover is so pretty, I can't wait to see what it'll look like "in person" and not on the screen. 

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BOOK 2 (working title HURRICANE SEASON): I gave myself a deadline of 11/23 (the day before Thanksgiving) to finish this first draft. The idea is to have the holidays (T'giving through New Years) to take a break from Betsy, Ty, Jenna, and these other characters I'm spending my days with. Then when I go back into it in January, I'll be a little fresher and can look at it a little more subjectively. I do love revisions, but I think this time around, the revisions will be a little deeper than they were with THE HIDEAWAY. Still though, easier than pulling words out of the air! With the 11/21 deadline for THE HIDEAWAY, making my 11/23 self-imposed deadline may be a little trickier, but that's what I'm shooting for. 

BOOK 3??? I keep having these bits and tendrils of an idea for my next book. For lack of creativity and to be as vague as possible ;) I just call it SILVER. Before I started HURRICANE SEASON, I wrote another book called GLORY ROAD, but I got really super stuck about 3/4 of the way in. My mom was sick, life felt unsteady, and everything was chaotic--no wonder writing was really hard. I made myself stick with it long enough to give it some sort of an ending, but it was super rushed and didn't do justice to the characters I really loved (and still think about.) So for my next book, I go back and forth between thinking I'll clean up GLORY ROAD and make it something lovely...or dig into this SILVER idea that keeps reaching in and tapping me on the forehead. We'll see. Can't do any significant thinking about it until at least next summer.

LIFE IN GENERAL: Tomorrow we're off to the ENT at Children's to see about my youngest daughter Sela's nose. In her adventurous, no-fear way, she somehow pulled a table on top of herself a few days ago, fracturing her nose and giving herself a concussion. I won't go into details, but it was terrifying and terrible. She is so brave though and so tough. She feels fine physically, says nothing hurts, but her face is quite a sight. I'll keep her home for at least a few days until the swelling goes down and the bruises aren't so...colorful. And I'm sure the ENT will tell us when she can get back to normal. She's chomping at the bit to ride on her scooter and her bike, play on the swingset, etc, and it's hard to tell her no. On the other hand, I want to wrap her in bubblewrap and walk right next to her with my hands around her head, making sure nothing comes close to bumping her face. 

Coming up, we have birthdays, a trip to Gatlinburg with family, and those deadlines I mentioned. I'll be spending as much time as possible during the morning hours at the library cranking out the end of HURRICANE SEASON. At home, I get way too distracted with laundry, dishes, etc. I'm also walking as much as I can these days--walking to and from Sela's school, walking in the morning on my own, etc. I've been missing my regular YCross class at the gym, so I'm trying to fit in as much activity as i can, which is hard when I spent a lot of time with my rear in a chair and a computer in front of me. Natalie and John, don't give up on me--I'll be back after Thanksgiving!

READING: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. It's very good. It's nonfiction, which I don't read a lot of, but this book pulled me in from page one of his author's note at the beginning, and that was before hearing him speak at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville a few weeks ago. I just saw that the book is 3 or 4 on the NYT Bestsellers List and I felt so happy for him and proud of him, which is strange since I don't know him at all. He was just so down-to-earth and humbled and shocked by the attention his book has been getting. It's a really good, important book. 

I think I'm giving up on a YA book I was trying to get into. Sometimes I crave a good angsty YA book, with all the romantic feelings, the "I love him but can't have him" drama, and whatever life disaster that's throwing these kids into a tailspin. This one is called Delirium, by Lauren Oliver. I've heard her speak a couple of times in Nashville and she's so cool and interesting and smart. I really wanted to like this book, but I'm just not getting into it. I realize though that it's likely me and not the book. 

I just pulled Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'Easter by Lisa Patton off my shelf. I bought it at a library book sale and thought it sounded cute (despite the title so southern, it might as well be dripping honey and sweet tea). I'm only a few pages in, but I like her humor. I'll see where it goes. 

I have Maria Semple's new book Today Will Be Different on hold from the library and I cannot wait. Bernadette is one of my favorites and I've only read good things about this new one. The woman can write a funny book.

I'll be back soon with my next Bookish People interview and hopefully a report that I made my two November deadlines!

 

My first Bookish People interview!

I told you I wanted to try something new, and today's the day! This will be a series of interviews, hopefully coming about once a month. I've come up with a list of questions I think are interesting, but if you have an idea of something you'd like to ask the featured writers and readers, feel free to let me know in the comments. (Which are turned on now, by the way. Just in case you've tried to comment in the past and haven't been able to.) I'm calling the series "Bookish People" because they won't all be writers, but likely all will be readers, and I think "bookish" covers everyone pretty nicely!

So, without further explanation, please meet my first featured guest, author *and* reader Carla Jean Whitley! 

1. Give us a quick overview of the books you've written.
I'm the author of "Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City" and "Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music." In other words, I'm interested in history unlike that you've seen in your textbooks! 

2. What's the hardest or best criticism you've received, either after your books were published or as you were editing, revising, and getting feedback.
Even a very good editor needs an editor. A reader noticed I wrote "Buffalo Springsteen" instead of "Buffalo Springfield" in my first book. Oops. Don't worry, I requested a correction in subsequent printings.

3. Describe your writing process. Is it orderly, scheduled, daily? Erratic, middle-of-the-night gimme-a-piece-of-paper-now? Or something in between?
When I'm in the midst of a book project, I have to set aside daily time or else I won't meet my deadline. I typically wrote an hour or two each evening and seven hours a day on weekends. I work a full-time and several part-time jobs, as well, so this meant lots of planning! Typically, I would take an hour away from any screens or work obligations when I got home from the day's activities. That would leave me at least partly refreshed and ready to write.

4. From what I understand, your publisher came to you and asked you to write your first two books. If you could choose the topic of your next book, what would you most like to write about?
That's true, but I had some say in both cases. Beer and music are both topics I've written about a lot in the past, and so it was fun to delve into them more deeply through these projects.
However, you're also right to think I might do something a little different next time. My passion is telling people's stories. Both of these histories touched on that, but each individual's role was portrayed in necessarily short glimpses. I'd like to dive deeply into a single person's compelling narrative.

5. Because I know you are a *major* reader, what's the strangest/most inappropriate place you've ever brought a book? (For example, a family dinner, a baseball game, etc)
Are there inappropriate places to read? Really?! Growing up, my sisters and I were often allowed to bring books to restaurants. I am all too acquainted with the act of reading in the bathroom. But perhaps the incident most people found surprising was when I read John Green's "Paper Towns" during a Stevie Wonder concert. (You can find the full story at carlajeanwhitley.com.)

6. Tell me a few recent books you've read that you really liked.
Have you read any of Brad Meltzer's Ordinary People Change the World series? I encountered these while researching children's books that deal with Alabama history, and I adore them. Meltzer, who also writes adult thrillers, profiles historical characters and emphasizes how we all can make a difference. The books are easy to read, accessible and include resources for additional learning. I want them all! 

7. Can you name a book you liked that you didn't think you would--maybe because of the subject matter, or an author you didn't think you enjoyed, or a genre you weren't used to reading.
Short story collections rarely resonate with me, but I thoroughly enjoyed Helen Ellis' "American Housewife." The collection started with a series of tweets, and the resulting stories are hilarious.

8. What are your pet peeve as a reader--something you read in books that really bugs you? (For example, one of my reading pet peeves is when someone misspells y'all. Especially if it's a southern author!)
I'm with you on the incorrect punctuation of y'all--it leaves me batty! I have put down books before when author misused semicolons. I'm not kidding; I feel strongly about this punctuation mark, and I recently got it tattooed on my right wrist. There are several layers of meaning, but for me, it started with this pet peeve.
My latest pet peeve, though, is an overuse of -ing words. My students and I have discussed this at length this semester, and I'm guilty. Now I can't help but see the same in others' writing!

9. Books: print or e-reader? Similarly, calendar: paper or electronic?
Today I updated my e-reader with a couple of library books. But truly, I'm a print person; today I also bought seven books at my favorite used bookstore, McKay in Nashville. As a professional, I'm platform agnostic, but personally, print please. The same goes for calendars. I tried going digital for a few years, but it never felt right.

10. Chocolate or vanilla? 
Vanilla. 100 percent.

11. Coffee or tea? Or something else?
I'm a coffee addict! But many people are surprised that I average a cup-and-a-half a day. I guess I express my feelings so strongly that people expect I drink pots at a time. I also love herbal tea, though, and could go for a cup right now.

12. Tell me what you're working on now. 
Besides the aforementioned cup of tea? I'm not in the midst of a big writing project. Rather, I'm trying to create wider margins so I might be better attuned when the next big story comes along. Because I keep so many balls in the air and I'm a people pleaser, I'm prone to focusing on obligations rather than my dreams. I want to not only dream more, but also chase those pursuits.

You can find Carla Jean on all of the major social media hangouts and her website

Thanks Carla Jean and thank you for reading! 

 

Going to try something new...

I used to read a lot of blogs. I mean, A LOT. It was back when I worked full-time, and now that I think about it, it's kind of funny to me that I had WAY more time to read blogs when I had a full-time job than when I lost my job and came home. I had a list of blogs as long as my arm and checked each of them daily. Once I had kids and stayed home, not to mention started this book-writing thing, my time to read blogs spiraled downwards. These days, my "downtime" is limited so I have to be careful about the ones I do read. And I choose blogs that are either extra funny, entertaining, encouraging, or informative. I wonder how my little blog ranks on those criteria??? 

I've been thinking about what to do with this blog--how to make it worth your while to come here and check things out. One thing I love on other blogs I read is when the blogger interviews other people. Most of the blogs I read are reading or writing related, so those interviews tend to be with authors and readers. And if you're reading this blog, it likely means you know I have a book coming out soon (April! And another one coming the next April!) and you are probably at least somewhat interested in books and writers. (Or maybe you're just interested in me, and that's okay too!) 

My point is, I'm thinking of including some interviews with bookish/writerly people here. I love interesting questions, not just the run-of-the-mill "When did you start writing?" and "How did you come up with your idea?" If you'd be interested in interviews/highlights like this, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. Or if there are specific questions you'd like me to ask future interviewees, let me know that too. 

I think this could be fun! 

Hope y'all have a great weekend.

Interstate podcasts

With my parents living in Mobile, my brother and his family in Atlanta, our beach house in Florida, and us in Birmingham, I spend a decent amount of time driving on the interstate. I used to listen to music, but at some point, I made the switch to podcasts. I thought I'd share some of my favorite podcasts--the ones I always download before hitting the road for a trip. In fact, I will be doing just that in the next day or so as we prepare for our last beach trip of the summer. (Sniff, sniff.)

Writers on Writing--interviews with authors, literary agents, editors (although mostly authors.) 
**Last weekend, I listened to one of the best author interviews I've ever heard. They interview Marcus Zusak, author of The Book Thief. He talks a lot about his writing process, how he decided on the unique narrator of The Book Thief, and how his books (and this one in particular) fits into the culture of the day. It's so, so good and encouraging for writers. And if you're not a writer but have read The Book Thief, a great insight into the mind of the man who created such an amazing book. (It's # 18 on the link above.)

Between the Covers--more author interviews. **I recommend starting with the interview with Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins

A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment--Conversations between authors Jess Walter (see above) and Sherman Alexie. They talk about everything from books and authors to music, dating, and formative childhood and teenage experiences (usually hilarious and embarrassing). There's a lot of humor, bad language, and heartbreak. Unfortunately, they've taken a hiatus while they're working on other things--at least I hope it's a hiatus and not a permanent break--but you can still listen to all their old episodes. They're so good. 

NPR Fresh Air--Most everyone knows what this is, so no explanation needed. Some of the best I've heard recently: John Krasinski, Tom Hanks, and Bryan Cranston, aka The One Who Knocks.

Elizabeth Gilbert's Magic Lessons. Try starting with the interview with Brene Brown. The only problem is that listening to Brene Brown talk--about anything--makes me want to pull the car over so I can scribble down everything she's saying. 

Beautiful Writers--I have to say up front, this one can get a little hippie-dippie for my taste (don't ask me to explain hippie-dippie) but the interviews with writers and book-people are really good. The one with Brene Brown is fantastic (I swear, everything that woman says about creativity and pursuing passions makes me want to pump my fist. Or cry, depending on the day.) So is the one with Robert McKee (king of screenwriting, writer of Story). Actually this one should be required listening for writers. Steven Pressfield (The War of Art) is great, as is Dani Shapiro, one of my favorites.

Lastly, for the non-writers, the folks just looking for a good time, a few laughs, and maybe a recipe for great cake pops, check out The Popcast with Jamie Golden and Knox McCoy. If it sounds familiar, it's because I've written about it before. They're hilarious and heartfelt and irreverent (but not too much.) They told me once that they were taking seriously my suggestion to dive into the world of The O.C for an episode. I'm still waiting, just saying.

If you know of others I should add to the list, please let me know! I'm always looking for new ways to distract myself on boring interstate drives. 

 

It's real if it's on Amazon

I got up early to write this morning--I was all ready to buckle down and work hard on Jenna's story (the 3rd POV in HURRICANE SEASON that I still have to write) but I did a search for myself on Google (as you do) and I discovered THE HIDEAWAY is up on my publisher's website AND Amazon! I got a little giddy and forgot all about all that writing stuff. Here's the link to Thomas Nelson's description of the book and here's the Amazon link. Pretty exciting stuff! It looks like you can pre-order the book now on Amazon. If you go that route, it'll arrive at your house on the publication day (April 11).  I may just sit here the rest of the day and look at my Amazon page.

 

In other news, THE HIDEAWAY is now in the hands of the line editor, Julee Schwartzburg. I should get her edits back on or around Aug 24, then the final edits will be due to Karli on September 16. 

Kate started back to school this week and things are good. She likes her new teacher and is making some new friends. Sela starts back next Wednesday. I'm trying to do some fun things with Sela these last few days of her summer because come Wednesday, it's Buckle Down Mama with my nose to the computer for the next three months. My writing group is taking a break, then will start back up right after Labor Day. 

That's it for this Friday morning. Maybe one day soon I'll get back to my Friday 5.  Have a great weekend!

Update on books!

THE HIDEAWAY
I received my editorial letter in mid-June with a deadline of July 29--two days from now. But I returned it to my editor Karli about a week ago! Her letter was lovely, truly. It was four pages of comments, kind praise, suggestions, and questions. I was incredibly relieved because I've heard of huge editorial letters with pages of changes to be made, including big things like plot points, characters, whole POVs, etc. In contrast, Karli's edits were light. AND YET, the changes/additions she suggested were so sharp and insightful. As I read her letter, I kept nodding, thinking, "Well, of course, this is a great suggestion. Why didn't I think of this?!" In the end, THE HIDEAWAY is even stronger than it was before and I couldn't be happier. I'm SO excited about getting this story out into the world!

Next, Karli will read through the manuscript with my changes, then hand it off to the line editor. If Karli has more suggestions for me, she'll lump them in with the line edits, and I'll get those all back somewhere around the end of August, I think. 

My sweet friend Sara Beth Cobb of Nimblee Design (designer of this website!) creative a super sharp little brandmark for me to use on bookmarks, notecards, whatever needs my "stamp" on it. I'm excited about being able to use it, and the logo (my name) along with it. The thought of self-promotion feels weird and foreign to me, but I know it's part of the job. And Sara Beth has provided me a really classy way to do it ;)

BOOK 2 (tentatively titled HURRICANE SEASON)
I am about 72K words into the manuscript, which is actually pretty far. By comparison, THE HIDEAWAY is about 88K words completed. So, by that word count, you'd think I'm pretty close to being finished. And I am pretty close to being finished...with 2/3 of the story. But that last third has been royally kicking my butt. The story has 3 POVs, and I essentially got really stuck in the weeds with one of the POVs, so I put it on hold while I wrote the other two. I am really liking the rest of the story, but that one character's POV has been beating me in the head these last few months. Thankfully, I'm back with my wonderful writing workshop group and they are helping me untangle the knots in my head and sort this character out. And I think it's working.

My goal is to finish the book by the end of the year. Then I'll have basically 3 months for more revisions. But because of this awesome group of writers I hang out with on Tuesday nights, when I get to the end of the book (before Christmas, please Lord), it won't be a huge mess--it'll actually be in pretty decent shape. 

Other things going on:
School starts, unbelievably, in two weeks. I'm excited about first grade for Kate and 4K for Sela. I think this time next year will find me a little teary, with my baby going on to kindergarten. Time marches on and that's a good thing, but it doesn't mean I don't want to hold onto the reins a little tighter. 

I'm split on how I feel about school starting back up. On one hand, I'm ready to have some of my time back--time to myself after having the kids with me basically all day, every day, and time to write for longer stretches of time. But I'm also really not looking forward to the early morning time crunch: "Hurry, hurry, hurry! Eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, where's your bag" etc etc. And just the chaos of the school year. Summer is a nice break from all that. But there's something to be said for routine and structure--for all of us. 

 

Housekeeping, rest, and multi-tasking, oh my.

Yesterday, I cleaned the downstairs of my house for two hours. Not too farfetched a story until you consider we'd just gotten back in town twelve hours before. We were gone for two weeks. How, pray tell, does a house (specifically the floor) get so dirty when no one is home?? This is what I was asking myself as I swept, vacuumed, mopped, and straightened each room. Then I remembered that in the three weeks leading up to our two-week vacation, we had three other trips out of town PLUS me trying to squeeze in as much writing (read: hand-wringing and panicking) on book 2 as I could before the editor's letter came back for The Hideaway. So suffice it to say, not much housework had happened in about a month, save for quick sweeps with the broom and some surface cleaning when necessary. 

Fast forward to yesterday morning when I was doing all this cleaning. Kate and Sela were playing together happily, thank the Lord, and I had unhurried time for the first time in what seemed like forever. We didn't have anywhere we had to be, nothing to pack for, no trip to plan. It finally felt like summer. Even as I write that, it sounds sort of silly--after all, since school let out, we've spent a decent chunk of time at the beach, which is the epitome of summer (for me at least). But trips out of town also can be hard--everyone off regular schedules, kids' bedtimes all screwy, early morning writing time interrupted by early wake-ups, etc. It's always nice to getaway, but sometimes it's nice to come home too. 

I'm glad that after trips galore, we've finally reached that part of summer where we can rest. Or maybe it's just me who's finally resting. I usually have a hard time resting when things are messy. For example, I'll spend 45 minutes of the kids' quiet time straightening up and getting my "nest" all set up, only to find ten minutes later, it's 3:00 and the kids pour out of their rooms ready to rock and roll. To show you my progress, right now, this is what my living room looks like: 

That's the leftovers from a morning campsite, complete with about 45 stuffed animals and dolls and every blanket in the house. And a tent. There's a tea set somewhere in there too. Instead of cleaning it up before I sat down for a few minutes of my own quiet time, I just stepped over it, poured myself a drink (no, not that kind), and put my feet up. I have about 20 minutes before we're up and moving again, but I'm determined to take these minutes for myself. (Remind me of this in the (probably near) future when I'm hurtling through my house trying to make it all neat and organized and wasting precious sit-down time. I need a lot of reminders.)

The first month of summer I felt like I had my hair blowing back all the time by activity. These last 5 weeks (really?!) will hopefully be slower. I'm a multi-tasker at heart (reading while cooking, checking Facebook while watching TV, thinking about plot holes while washing my hair) but I just recently heard a great quote: "There's a temptation to multitask everything but you can't multi-task presence." With a house that gets ten times dirtier in the summer, a book to write (and one I'm quite perplexed by), and another one to edit, I'm going to try to not be such a multitasker--especially when it comes to my kids. This morning, after the camping session on the floor and staying in pjs til 10, we stopped by the library and left with our arms full of books. After quiet time, we have a bag of flower seeds to plant and pink hydrangeas to cut and bring inside. Then maybe popsicles. I think that's a good start.

The Friday 5: Books, Josh Ritter (again), and scrambled eggs

1. As I've said above in my "About" section (#9 to be specific), I am generally a bad scrambled egg maker. As my husband likes to say, I tend to leave about whole egg stuck to the bottom of the skillet, and when I'm only cooking two eggs, that's a problem. Enter The Green Pan. It's my new very good friend in the kitchen.

Here is my Green Pan after I scrambled two eggs.

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Oh wait, you don't see anything? That's because there's nothing there. The eggs slid out and the pan was clean as a whistle. I've also cooked meat and veggies in it and it works just as beautifully and cleans up super-easy. They come in a couple of sizes and you can find them at Target.

2.

josh
josh

Y'all. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you've never heard Josh Ritter's music, look him up and listen. If you've heard him but have never seen him live, he's on tour across the south and other places right now and into the fall and I promise it will be worth it.

On second thought, maybe just skip the live shows. We love seeing him at small venues like WorkPlay, the now-closed Bottletree, and Saturn, this cool little coffee shop/bar/music venue where we saw him a few nights ago. If too many people find out about him, he may skip these small places and this man was born to play music in small crowded places like this. Saturn was packed with happy people because Josh is such a happy guy on stage. Seriously, my cheeks hurt at the end of the night. And he ended with Kathleen, which was perfect. And I got to video him singing Henrietta, Indiana and Getting Ready to Get Down (two of Kate and Sela's favorite Josh Ritter songs).

3. Update on The Hideaway: We're getting really close to a cover! I'm so excited because the one we (me, my editor, my agent, and others on the publisher's marketing team) are all leaning towards is soooo pretty. It would make me pull the book off the shelf just by cover alone. That's what I was hoping for. I wish I could show it to you now, but stay tuned...

We're getting close to my new author website too! The talented Sara Beth Cobb of Nimblee is designing it. Everything she creates is beautiful, so I'm so excited to see what she comes up with. Again, stay tuned...

4. Update on book 2: I'm about 3/4 finished. I got really close to the end, then stopped because I have to go back and rework one of the three points of view. My goal is to  get through that one, then have all three of them join back up and come to a (hopefully satisfying) ending. I start back on my fiction workshop in July, so hopefully by then I'll be almost finished. (I say that, but with Sela already out of school and only four more days of school left for Kate, it'll take a lot of creativity and good time-management skills on my part!)

5. What I'm reading these days:

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Having grown up in Mountain Brook, Katherine Clark writes very honestly about both the good and the bad associated with the beautiful, secluded suburb of Birmingham. She wrote this book about a larger-than-life (both physically and personality-wise) teacher/mentor she had at Altamont in the 80s. In the book, the school is called Brook-Haven and the teacher is Norman Laney. At first, I was unsure I'd be able to really get into it or connect with this character but I was pulled in immediately. Everyone should be so lucky to have had a teacher like this in your corner trying to push you to be your best, fullest self through education and "civilization," as he calls it. And his insider view of the mannerisms and quirks of the Mountain Brook set (NO offense to friends who live there now!) is hilarious.

I've also just requested these two from the library.

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hannah
hannah

I've been hearing about The Nightingale for months and it's finally time to get my hands on a copy. I generally enjoy reading books about WWII, and I love that this one is about women in the war. The Kind Worth Killing isn't a book I'd typically pick up, but after my friend Anna mentioned how good it was, I've been hearing about it all over the place. I've heard the ending comes out of now where and is a big surprise. I'm going to give it a try.

Have you read any of these or anything else good you'd like to share? I love recommendations!

Have a great weekend!

The Friday 5: book news, difficult middles, and waiting for summer

1. In The Hideaway news: I finally turned in the manuscript to my editor! It has been sitting on a flashdrive untouched since last summer when I began talks with HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson, and I've been dying to send it off to get the process started. Unfortunately, it'll still be a couple of months before I get the editor's letter back, but at least it's out of my hands. I'm very curious to see what Karli (my editor) has to say about it when she finishes reading it. I re-read it a week or so ago just to double-check everything and make sure I hadn't left any misspelled words or punctuation errors. I was happy to find I still love the story! Only a year to wait for it. (**Release date is April 11, 2017.**) 2. In Book 2 news: I almost abandoned it. And frankly, that option isn't totally off the table. I probably won't, but it was close there for a few days. See, I got to the dreaded middle. It's the same thing that happened with the previous book I wrote (the one I thought was going to be my book 2, but I got to the middle and completely freaked out and lost the thread. Maybe I'll come back to it one day.) I probably hit the rough middle in The Hideaway, but I just don't remember. (Honestly, I look at The Hideaway through rose-tinted glasses. In my head, the process was smooth as lake water without any middle-of-the-night panic attacks over how much I still had left to do. It's probably because that book is FINISHED and it's easy to think happy, loving thoughts about a book that's finished.)

Anyway, about middles, Dani Shapiro says: "Middles are where you have to tough things out. Ideas fall apart. All that promise vanishes when facing the cold, harsh light of making something out of it. Middles challenge us to find our tenacity and our patience, to remind ourselves that it is within this struggle--often just at the height of hopelessness, frustration,  and despair--that we find the most hidden and valuable gifts of the process. Just as in life."

So, onward with whatever thin strands of tenacity and patience I have. I will (try) not (to) abandon this story for another something else shinier, easier, lighter. Because this is the story I'm telling now. It's possible I just found my way into the a difficult character in my story--a character I'm having a hard time figuring out. If I go down this new path, it'll probably mean trashing several thousand words, but it may be worth it. I won't know unless I try it.

Y'all, writing a book is HARD. What was I thinking, getting myself into this? (I'm kidding. Mostly.) I read yesterday that success (when writing books, at least) is writing the book you meant to write. I truly believe I did that with The Hideaway--it is just what I wanted it to be when I first started writing. Now, to do it again with another book? In the words of Miracle Max, "It'll take a miracle."

3. Looking for something good to read? 

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Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon. Fictionalized story of the Hindenberg. Historical and funny, sensual and suspenseful. I couldn't put it down.

Anything you've read that you loved? Tell me!

4. In other book news, my 6 year old is learning to read and it is such a joy. She sat at the breakfast table this morning, a stack of library books next to her, and said, "I just love books. Don't you love books?" Proud mama moment. I've grown to love picking out children's books at the library almost as I love picking out my own. Trying to pick something new--a new topic, a new author, one with amazing pictures or a super funny story--it's such a treat to introduce her, and little sister Sela, to the worlds waiting for them in books. Here are some of our recent favorites (she doesn't necessarily read these--she just picks out the words she knows--but we read them together):

Really, anything by Kate DiCamillo is a treat. We love all the Mercy Watson books. Bink & Gollie is a new favorite.

bear

bear

Daniel Pinkwater has several Bear and Bunny books. They're sweet and funny. We love when they think the frog croaking up in a tree is a kitty because only kitties climb trees.

butterfly

butterfly

For a long time, Kate avoided Magic School Bus books because they'd read one in school that was all about germs and it happened to be while she was in her germ-phobia phase. Finally, we've found some Magic School Bus books she likes. This one was fun--Mrs. Frizzle turned the kids into butterflies.

If your kids have favorite books, I'd love to hear about them!

5. I've always loved summer and wait for it impatiently through the cold winter months. (And chilly springs, like this week.) But this year, our first year in "big school," I'm waiting for it with a new impatience. Spring Break was a little taste of slow, non-rushed mornings, and it was really nice. The 7-7:45 timeframe is such a chaotic crunch, as I know it is for most people with kids. I'm looking forward to not having to rush through "Eat! Eat! Eat! Brush your teeth! Get shoes on! Where's your bag? Do you have your lunch?" We are not scheduling much for the summer--a couple of VBSs, a short session of tennis lessons for Kate, and lots of pool time. That's about it. Here's to not overprogramming for the summer! (Ask me again in August, and maybe I'll be singing a different tune.)

Hope y'all have a great weekend!

Why I Write

I went to the Hoover Library Southern Voices festival a couple weekends ago and heard a bunch of authors talk about their books, their writing processes, and their paths to publication. It's always such a boost to be in a room full of other people who understand how hard it is to write--to say what you want to say in the way you want to say it--and how hard the road is to getting those words out to people other than your family and critique readers. Thinking of how hard that road is and how long it takes (or at least, how long it took me), I started wondering--why do I want it? Why do I write in the first place, why did/do I care about getting my stories out into the public? Why not just write for myself? Plenty of people do that--work for years or their whole lives on stories that no one will read but them and they are satisfied with that. Why did I feel the need and desire to push my stories out into the wider world?

It's not vanity--trust me on that. The fact that my stories going out into the world will require me to actually go to places and talk about them--in front of other people...well, let's just say I'm forcibly pushing those thoughts out of my head until it actually happens. I'm thrilled at the prospect of people maybe actually liking my book when it comes out and wanting to talk to me about it, or hear me talk about it, but at the same time, it kind of makes me want to throw up. I'm not super comfortable talking in front of a small group of people, much less a roomful of book clubbers I don't know!

Suffice it to say, I'm not in this for vanity or glory. The only way I can explain it is connection. I want to write stories that make people say, "Me too! I feel that too!" and maybe even "I'm not alone in this." That's what I love most about reading. That moment when I'm reading a book and the character's words echo something deep inside me--maybe even a feeling I have but haven't figured out a way to put it into words. It makes me say, "Yes! That's it!" It's that moment of connection, that thought that I'm not alone in feeling whatever it is--that someone else feels it or notices it or has experienced it too. THAT is what I want for readers of my books. I want my stories to translate to people who haven't necessarily gone through the same experiences in my books, but who've had the feelings that go along with the experiences.

So that's why I write. On hard writing days, or days when I get difficult feedback, or when I realize I'm going to need an extensive revision, or when I want to shut my computer and walk away--on days like those, it's helpful to remember why I'm doing it. No woman is an island, so these experiences and emotions I pour into my stories aren't just for me. Yes, there are 33 million books available on Amazon (a staggering number I just heard recently), but there is a place for mine, and hopefully readers for them.

 

Friday 5: Books, Pizza, & Gloria Steinem

  1. Hoover Library's Southern Voices book/writing festival is this weekend. It's a dream for writers and book lovers. I'm excited about all the authors, because even if I'm not familiar with their books, they are always great speakers who talk about their books and writing processes in ways that interest and engage both writers and non-writers. I'm most excited to see husband/wife team Tom Franklin (author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter) and Beth Ann Fennelley (they wrote The Tilted World together), and debut author Laura Lane McNeal (author of DollBaby.)

pizza
pizza

2. I made homemade pizza the other night for the first time. Well, homemade in that I bought fresh dough from Publix. I was so excited--my neighbor made pizza with the fresh dough a few nights before and it was a big hit. I bought the ingredients, things the girls would eat, the right kind of pesto and pizza sauce, let it proof for the specified amount of time, poured my beer (pizza and beer, right?) and rolled that baby out.  

Seriously. I couldn't get it any bigger than that. My neighbor halved her dough (the same amount I got) and it made TWO pizzas. Yes, I did something wrong but for the life of me, I still don't know what. I eventually got it a bit bigger, added the toppings and baked the thing, and it actually was really good. Next time, I'll buy two bags of dough.

3. Apparently, Lands End is in some hot water for a photo spread in a recent catalog that featured Gloria Steinem talking about women's rights. I saw the catalog and didn't think anything of it. It's not that she was indecently dressed or anything--it's just that by using her image (and I think offering to monogram tote bags with the ERA (equal rights amendment) logo), shoppers saw Lands End as endorsing Gloria and myriad other things she stands behind, such as abortion rights. Well, cue irate shoppers vowing to cancel Lands End orders and pledge their allegiance to competitor L.L. Bean.

Seriously.

Lands End offered this as part of their statement/apology: "It was never our intention to raise a divisive political or religious issue."

Newsflash Lands End--you couldn't have chosen a MORE divisive or polarizing person to include in your magazine. Did you think all of America would love it? Half love it, half hate it. Now, instead of backtracking and apologizing, thereby offending all the people who you just made happy by including Gloria, now they are mad at you too! Pick a stance and stick with it.

The whole thing just seemed so ridiculous to me. And for the record, I am a pro-life Christian and I am NOT returning the gorgeous swimsuit I just ordered from Lands End. Do you know how hard it is to find a flattering swimsuit that fits right, can actually get wet without doing something weird, and doesn't cost a million dollars? (Such an un-feminist thing for me to say, I know.)

4. On to other things.

Y'all, writing is so hard. I don't know why I chose this as my THING. Why couldn't I have chosen knitting? Or origami? Or tennis--I could have gone back to tennis! Or even ghostwriting--I could figure out someone else's plot holes all day long, but my own?? Impossible.

If you can't tell, I'm having a wee bit of a struggle in my manuscript. It's called "the dreaded middle." Apparently, this is my thing. I steamroll through the first 100 pages or so, then get stuck, then have to fight my way out. It happened to some degree with The Hideaway, but it doesn't make it any easier the second time. I care about this story and the characters and I really want to get it out and polish it and send it out into the world, but the getting there--oh man, it's such a fight. As someone (maybe Anne Lamott??) said once, "I love having written." I don't always love the actual writing, but I do love it when I'm finished.

5. Lastly, clearly my daughter is a genius.

math
math

Have a great weekend!

Learning to Rest

I often have a hard time resting when things around me are messy or chaotic. How that plays out in real life is that in any small amounts of time during the day I have to rest (few and far between, actually), I find myself cleaning or straightening so that everything is neat before I can sit down and rest. Folding clothes, picking up toys, sweeping crumbs--this all takes precedence. Now, I know sometimes house chores do need to come first, but sometimes a mental health break is more necessary than the to-do list. And I have such a hard time getting this across to myself. I do all those things to make the environment around me neater and less messy, to make my nest a little cozier so I can rest (usually read or write) better, but what actually happens is that I squander that rest time so that when I do actually sit down, I have five minutes until I need to wake Sela up or start dinner or pick Kate up from school. It happens time and time again, and honestly, it's so frustrating. This plays into my writing life as well. I tend to get to a place in my stories where things are flowing well, then all of the sudden, it feels like I hit a wall. The usual culprit is that I've been listening too much to the "rules," to the illusive "they" who say you have to pack the story with action, stay out of the characters' heads, use cliffhangers, ratchet up the tension, use third person, no, use first person, keep it light, add more depth. It all adds up to me freaking out and thinking I've written 114 pages of total crap that no one is going to want to read. So I usually start going back through the story and picking it apart, thinking I need to change the tense, use more or fewer POVs, maybe change the setting, add an extra character to add conflict, anything to make things work better. I can spin my wheels for weeks trying to make everything in those beginning pages perfect so I can make forward progress. "Only when everything is perfect and clean can I go forward with the rest of the story."

It's not a way to go through life and it's not a way to write a novel. Well, it's a way, but not a very good one. Sometimes, in both life and in writing, it's necessary to forget about the mess and just press forward. Let yourself rest even if things around you aren't perfect. Let yourself feel your way through a story--even stream of consciousness, if that's how it comes--and worry about the fine-tuning and following the "rules" later.

(I put "rules" in quotation marks because there really are no hard and fast rules. Follow them, break them, it doesn't matter as long as you tell a good story well.)

I recently read a quote by Anne Lamott that I LOVE: "Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns." This reminds me that nothing is going to be perfect in this broken world. There will always be mess, emptiness, and discomfort. What matters is the constant pushing forward to the light. Trusting that the light will come, and it will illuminate all our dark corners.