BOOKISH PEOPLE!

Hey, hey, two blog posts in less than a week, whaaaaat?! Must be the holiday spirit ;)

It’s been a minute since I’ve posted a Bookish People interview, so I’m really excited to let y’all in on this one. If you follow me on Instagram or FB, you saw the cover reveal of my friend Rachel Linden’s third novel, releasing next year, THE ENLIGHTENMENT OF BEES, and today you’ll get a chance to get to know her a little better! I’m excited to officially meet her in person in January when we’ll both be at the ALA (American Library Association) Midwinter conference.

Rachel Linden author photo.jpg


Here’s her interview…

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

I write women’s fiction novels about hope, courage and connection. All my stories feature strong female protagonists facing big life challenges, exotic international or Pacific Northwest settings, and social justice themes woven throughout.

Ascension of Larks is about a documentary photographer who loses the only man she’s ever loved and must embrace an unexpected life on remote San Juan Island. Becoming the Talbot Sisters details estranged twin sisters learning to be every day brave on an unexpected journey across Central Europe as they face issues like infertility, surrogacy and sex trafficking. The Enlightenment of Bees, (available July 2019) is the story of an idealistic Seattle baker. When her carefully planned life crumbles, she embarks on an international humanitarian trip to find her place in the world. It explores the sweet spot in life where our passions meet the world’s great need.

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 studied writing and literature for a semester at Oxford and my tutor Nigel, a brilliant, eccentric poet who wore felt slippers with curled up toes, gave me the best criticism. He told me a piece I wrote was technically adequate, but that he could tell I hadn’t put my heart and soul into it. “Storm yourself!” he urged me. “Stir up those deep passions in your soul and put more of your inner self on the page.” That was the best criticism/advice I’ve ever received! Now I try hard to really engage my own heart and soul in the stories I write. Thanks, Nigel!

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

I totally forgot my grown up nude high heels for my first ever TV interview! I was just wearing some normal brown leather walking flats. I tucked my feet under the couch and hoped the camera couldn’t see them!

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?

I have a toddler and preschooler, so my process is a bit harried and erratic. I brainstorm while doing normal life stuff –laundry and making mac-n-cheese - then buckle down and write like a fiend when I have a quiet hour or two. I’d describe my current process as a mixture of panic, sheer determination, and brisk efficiency!

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 always fascinated by relational connection versus isolation and how we build a sense of place in the world and a sense of home. I’ve got a new story percolating about the strong bond between a grieving mother and her deceased child and about grace and forgiveness.

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

Oh you name it. Growing up I always had a book or two or four in my bag. Always. Weddings. Church potlucks. A blind date. I learned to wash dishes while reading a book! I am a true book nerd.

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

The Great Alone by fellow Pacific Northwest author Kristin Hannah. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wall.

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.

 One of my favorite books this year was The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs. I expected a memoir about a young mother dying of stage 4 breast cancer to be terribly depressing, but Riggs’ philosophical bent, dark humor, and tender observations about life made it a remarkable book about how to live fully. I adored it! Also I finished it sobbing at 1 in the morning on my birthday. So readers, be warned!

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

I love details, those specifics that give a story a sense of place. Since I’ve lived abroad and traveled so much, I struggle if an author doesn’t give a well-rounded and authentic sense of place, especially if it seems like they haven’t been somewhere they’re writing about. I find it hard to really engage with the story. And it’s difficult as an author not to read other books with an editorial eye. If I find I’m editing sentences in a book I usually lay it aside and find a story that fully engages me as a reader and suspends that editorial side of me! I also want the books I read to affirming the value of this life in some way. I want to come away from each book enlightened, encouraged or at least entertained. If not, I feel cheated!

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

I love the tactile nature of real paper pages but since I lived in Europe for years, my faithful old first generation Kindle became my best book buddy! I could download books from the Seattle Public Library and it was my literary lifeline. I love the convenience of Kindle for travel too. As for a calendar…I use a hopelessly messy paper calendar shared by the entire family. Not the most effective method probably!

11.  Chocolate or vanilla?

I’m firmly in the chocolate camp! Preferably dark and European. Vanilla tastes like eating cold air to me, like eating nothing!

12. Coffee or tea? Or something else?

Bubbly water. I lived in Budapest for 5 years and Hungarians LOVE their sparkling water. Now I crave it.

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

I’m finishing up edits for The Enlightenment of Bees and starting to plot book #4. I’m really excited about this one. It’s set on an island in the Pacific Northwest, but there’s a unique twist to the story!

To connect with Rachel, find her on her website, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

 

Bookish People: Colleen Oakley **Plus a Giveaway!!**

Contest closed--winner is Robin Ruiz!

This month's Bookish People interview features Colleen Oakley, author of Before I Go and Close Enough to Touch.

 

I was lucky to meet her a few months ago at The Book Exchange in Marietta, GA. She has a kindergartener and a second grader, like I do, so I'd imagine we're on the same page as far as trying to fit writing/editing/promotion in around the edges of parenting and life!

before.jpg
touch2b (1).jpg

**GIVEAWAY ALERT: To celebrate this week's paperback release of her most recent book, Close Enough to Touch, Colleen has generously offered one lucky reader a copy of the book! See details about the giveaway after her interview!**

Welcome Colleen!

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

My debut, Before I Go, is about a young woman dying of breast cancer, who decides, in the time she has left, to find a new wife for her husband to take care of him after she’s gone.

My latest, Close Enough to Touch is about a woman with a rare and potentially deadly medical condition—she’s allergic to other people.

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?

Tough question! Hardest criticism is pretty much any review that pans your book in a mean way. A blogger once wrote a one-word review: “Don’t”. I understand that not every book is for everybody, but after working so hard on something, it still stings!

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

I love enthusiastic fans! The best moments are always the people who are excited to meet you and love your work—it’s such a great feeling to see that something you’ve written has had such an impact on someone.

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?

Definitely something in between. On deadline I write every day, but there’s nothing organized about me or my writing. I’m an OCD person’s worst nightmare.

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

There are so many! I have a list of book ideas that I can’t wait to tackle. As far as setting, I’d love to do a book set in Italy, just so I have the excuse to go there.

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

The carpool lane picking my kids up from school. I know I’m meant to be paying attention to make sure I don’t accidentally take out any children, but it’s a long line and a book helps pass the time.

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

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter, Windy City Blues by Renee Rosen, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I LOVE Taylor Jenkins Reid, but this book was a step out of her typical genre and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it when I started reading, but then I literally couldn’t put it down. It’s such a great page-turner with a fascinating— and multi-faceted— main character.

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

I don’t like clichés, predictable endings or boring dialogue—three things I work really hard as a writer to try and avoid (even though I don’t always succeed!)

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

Books— always print. Calendar— electronic

11. Chocolate or vanilla?

Both!

12. Coffee or tea? Or something else?

Coffee! And vodka.

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

I’m halfway done with a book about dream telepathy— and whether true love is fated or a choice.

**To enter the giveaway for Colleen's book Close Enough to Touch, leave a comment here and tell us what you're reading now! Contest ends at 7pm CST Tuesday 8/15.

Thanks for reading and thanks Colleen for the interview and for the giveaway!

 

 

Bookish People: M.O. Walsh

Y'all, forgive me. It's been a while since I've posted a Bookish People interview, but I'm back with a good one! 

Those of you who know my husband know he's a runner. In the last several years, he's concentrated his running on mountains and trails, which makes me happy because there are no cars or angry drivers to deal with. A few years ago, I traveled with him to the far reaches of Tennessee for a weekend stage-race at a horse farm. Not being a runner, I came supplied with a good book and my computer with the idea that I'd get some writing done. However, I didn't even crack the computer open because I spent the entire weekend sitting in a fold-out chair with my nose in M.O. Walsh's debut novel My Sunshine Away. It wasn't an easy breezy read--it was gritty and dark and at times painful, but it also had a strong sense of nostalgia for easier days of childhood, plus unexpected sweetness and love. Walsh is so skilled with words and creating a sense of place--so much so that it carried me away from the heat and the strange bugs and the scary little roadside motel we stayed in. I really enjoyed it, so consider this my endorsement. (*Note if you're a sensitive reader--like I said, there are some gritty, painful parts.)

I'm really excited to feature M.O. on Bookish People! And his is a fantastic interview. I laughed and nodded as I read through his answers. (It always makes authors feel better about themselves to hear another author talk about his or her struggles with writing! It's self-serving, but it's the truth. Or maybe it's just my truth.) Anyway, I hope you enjoy the interview then check out his books. I'm already excited about his next one. 

 

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

My first book is a collection of short stories called The Prospect of Magic, which is about what happens when a travelling carnival goes bust in a small Louisiana town and the carnival workers decide to make a home there.  The stories are kind of strange, halfway split between realism and a type of magical realism. As a note, I consider the story about a family of bat people to be realism. My most recent book is a novel entitled My Sunshine Away, which is a sort of coming of age literary suspense set in suburban Baton Rouge, mainly in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

magic.jpg

 

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 had a 6th grade teacher once send me an email to tell me that she loved my novel but she thought I should go back to sixth grade before I ever wrote another one.  She was of the opinion that I (and all my editors and copyeditors, I suppose) don’t understand proper grammar.  I think the fact the novel is written in first person, and follows more colloquial speech patterns, was an unsatisfactory answer to a person who has spent their life teaching the rules. I get that. Plus, I never take that sort of criticism too seriously. After all, no one could be as harsh to me in an email as I am to myself on a daily basis.

The best criticism has come from the dozens of teachers and peers I’ve had throughout my many years of schooling and writing.  This advice typically tends to be about clarity, about making sure that readers can see the simple things you are describing before worrying about being pretty or smart. It’s important to remember that and I sometimes need to be reminded. Clarity. Clarity. Clarity.

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

I had a reading at book festival where I walked in and saw about 10 people already there waiting (which is a great number!). I was pretty psyched. Plus, my family had come with me so all in all there were about 15 people.  Then, when I got introduced, the people who had been waiting started to look confused. They shuffled around to find their programs and all, simultaneously, it seemed, realized they were in the wrong room. After they politely filed out, one by one, I realized it was just me and my family in there. Since they had all heard me read from that same book many times, I begged them to let me take them to lunch instead.  However, like the loving family they are, they asked me to continue.  I think they were hoping more people would show up, which they did not. I don’t know. I couldn’t help feeling guilty that they’d gotten out of their pj’s for that.   

The best moments are typically those in which anybody shows up at all, in which you meet other writers and booksellers, perhaps see an old friend who now lives in that town you’ve travelled to.  A store called Watermark Books in Wichita, Kansas once made a gumbo dinner for my reading, which was awesome.  When I read at Lemuria in Jackson, where my grandparents used to live before they passed away, one of my grandmother’s dearest friends showed up and gave me a photo album full of pictures of them with my grandparents. Playing golf. Smiling. Being together in life. That sort of thing, any unexpected moment of connection, is hard to beat.

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?

I write best in the early mornings, before I’ve let the real world bat me around.  However, these days, with a family and young kids and a full-time job, I pretty much have to steal my writing time. I don’t have any rituals or superstitions about it.  I typically just look at the screen and think, why is this not as good as I want it to be?  

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

My first two books are set in Louisiana, as is the one I’m working on now. I think my next one, if I’m lucky enough to write it, will be, as well.  I’ve lived here for most of my life and feel, when you’re writing fiction, it’s sometimes best to play to your strengths. I know what the houses look like here. I know which trees dot the medians.  I know the heat.  That helps.

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

Does the bathroom count?

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

I think Miss Jane, by Brad Watson, is one of the most beautiful novels I’ve read in years.  I also really enjoyed Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.  That book was a lot of fun. I also thought Exit West by Mohsin Hamid was incredible and I learned a great deal about slow burning suspense from Megan Abbott’s novel You Will Know Me. As far as older books I finally got around to reading, the ones that most blew me away were The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I can also remember finishing Jess Walter’s novel Beautiful Ruins and thinking, damn, I wish I could write like that.

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 liked The Martian by Andy Weir a good deal more than I thought I would.  I don’t read a ton of sci fi, but that wasn’t what surprised me about it.  What surprised me was the great pleasure I get, as a reader, out of watching problem-solving in novels.  That book has a new problem every page, it seems, that we witness the narrator solve in surprising and inventive ways.  I think that’s what all fiction ultimately does, present problems and try to solve them unexpectedly, but this book was like dosing that feeling with steroids. 

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

I have way too many to list.  The verb “pad” instead of walk. Errors in agency, like when a person’s hands feel greedy or jealous (which hands obviously can’t do).  Eyes flashing. Mouths gaping. People having “frames” instead of bodies. I think most writers have these sort of pet peeves.  They are the by-product of the hundreds of hours we spend berating ourselves about out our own prose. It doesn’t mean the other person’s writing is bad.  It means that we have convinced ourselves that we are bad writers when we write that way.  So, to see other people do it and get away with it just sets off a sort of petty sounding bell in our ear.

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

Books: print or audio.  Calendar: about 5 different ones on 5 different platforms that are inevitable un-synched.

11.  Chocolate or vanilla?

Swirl.

12. Coffee or tea? Or something else?

Coffee if writing. Bourbon if not.

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

I am working on a novel about what happens to a fictional town in Louisiana when a machine shows up at the grocery store that is able to predict, through the science of DNA, what people are truly capable of achieving.  It is called The Big Door Prize and is slated for publication by Putnam in 2021. I imagine that seems like a long time from now to anyone who doesn’t actually have to finish the novel.  To me, it feels like it is due tomorrow.

You can find M.O. on Twitter, Facebook, or on his website

Thank you M.O. and thank you for reading!

Bookish People--Judy Fogarty

I'm so excited to have Judy Fogarty here for this month's (late--sorry!) Bookish People interview. If you remember, she wrote the book Breaking and Holding that I reviewed a few weeks ago and loved so much. It has a great mix of heavy and light--dysfunctional marriage, addiction, secrets, and abuse plus a sweet romance, friendship, longing and hope. And some tennis! 

 

Judy was kind enough to do the Q&A with us, despite a nasty bout of pneumonia and her own deadlines and time commitments. Thanks Judy!

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

Set in 1978, Breaking and Holding is a story of deception, betrayal and love that can't let go. It begins when Patricia Curren, searching for the courage to end her desolate marriage to a controlling husband, spends a summer alone on Kiawah Island. There she takes a tennis lesson from collegiate player Terry Sloan and a physical attraction begins a slow burn to obsession. What gives the novel its edge is the presence and perspective of career-driven Lynn Hewitt. As Patricia's closest friend and her husband's assistant, Lynn is trapped in the middle, trying to protect everyone from life-shattering consequences.

 

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? 

Throughout countless revisions, my writing group posed one elemental question I had trouble answering: Whose story is this? I had Patricia and Terry and their story of unshakeable love, but I also had first-person narrator, Lynn, in a Nick Carraway role. I wrote 15 beginnings trying to clarify her role before finding the simple lines that open the novel today. The final line, which now seems equally obvious, didn't come to me until the proofreading stage and barely made it into print.

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

At my launch party in my native Savannah, Georgia, people I hadn't seen in years turned out to buy my novel. Many, I'm sure, didn't know its elements: an illicit love affair, a hot steamy summer at the beach, and the Me Decade of the 1970s ("If it feels good, do it!") At one point, I looked up from my table and saw a contingent of octogenarians, including my elementary school librarian, my childhood ballet teacher, and my sweet neighbor hobbling on two canes to buy ten copies. All of them are dear to my heart. And I'm still wondering what each of them thought!

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?

I'm an orderly lark, at my best in the morning. I wake daily at 4:00 without an alarm and write until life demands otherwise or I hit the wall. I love the quiet of the morning, the darkness outside and the moment when the first bird sings. Apart from schedule though, I'm a total mess, with an office, desk, bulletin board and countless laptop files to prove it.

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

Breaking and Holding was somewhat dark. My second novel is darker. So, craving something light and aspiring high, I'd like to discover my Nora Ephron side.

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

Never to church or a sports event, but to every other place you can think of.

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

Paulette Giles had me at page one of News of the World, and held me all the way with her poetic prose, voice, scene setting, dialogue, meticulous but unobtrusive historical detail, and most of all, with her story. I didn't read. I rode with Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd and ten-year-old Johanna, from Wichita Falls to San Antonio. I would say much the same thing of Elizabeth Strout's My Name is Lucy Barton. I didn't read. I listened to Lucy, lying in a hospital bed, conversing with her mother for the first time in years about their relationship and her childhood of poverty, abuse, shame and separateness. I loved Lucy's wisdom and her exuberant appreciation of small kindnesses, all related in her distinctive voice and Strout's spare, resonant prose.

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 go-to genre is literary fiction, but I'm trying to read more of what I write: commercial women's fiction with a literary bent. I wasn't expecting to love Big Little Lies, my first Liane Moriarty novel, but I did, for its wittiness, edge and brisk pace coupled with important issues of domestic abuse, bullying and facets of marriage, parenting, and divorce.

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

Pedestrian prose or voice, even in a well-plotted page-turner. If the prose isn't rich, quirky or original, or if the voice is flat, I have a hard time going on.

10. Books: print or e-reader?

Both. I like the feel of a book in my hand and the sight of books on my shelves or in one of many stacks you'll find around my house. They're like art—colorful, meaningful, valuable. But I love the immediacy of downloading to my Kindle when I hear about a new book and just can't wait.

11. Similarly, calendar: paper or electronic?

Electronic only, though I do have a wall calendar with inspiring daily quotes.

12. Chocolate or vanilla?

Chocolate. Especially dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt.

13. Coffee or tea?

Starbucks Sumatra, always with half and half.

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

A novel that takes place over 30 days, between two full moons, the second of which is a blood moon. Set in present-day on the Isle of Hope in Savannah, it's a relationship story with strong elements of suspense. The widowed protagonist's son, four-year-old Zach, is an absolute joy to write.

You can find Judy on Facebook, Twitter, and on her website.  

Thanks Judy and thank you for reading!

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.

FifthAvenueArtistsSociety-quote2a.jpg

 

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.

Secret Sisters.jpg

 

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!

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!

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. 

51PZlA2aP1L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 

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!