I'm Still Here!

Friends! Hello from Birmingham! It’s been a minute since I’ve posted here on the blog, and I’m sorry for that.

**I’m going to take a quick minute to suggest you follow me on either Instagram or Facebook—I update those much more regularly than this blog, although I do want to keep you updated here as well. For better or worse, social media tends to be a quick and easy way to get information out and stay connected to everyone. I’d love to see you there!

https://www.facebook.com/LaurenKDentonAuthor/

https://www.instagram.com/laurenkdentonbooks/?hl=en


Okay, now, where were we? Oh yes, there’s been a lot going on over here! Glory Road came out in March and I’ve so enjoyed hearing from readers who are really loving the story. As any good parent will say, I love each of my books the same, but this story felt extra special to me. It’s set on the red dirt road in part because my grandparents lived on a similar red dirt road for all of my childhood and it remains in my mind as one of my very favorite places. It felt removed from the rest of the world and I knew I wanted these three ladies to enjoy that same sense of peace and quiet. If you’ve read the story, I hope you enjoyed getting to know these women (and the men that come along with them)—and if you haven’t, I hope you pick it up soon!

Some highlights this spring:

Glory Road was named one of Southern Living’s 25 Beach Reads Perfect for Summer!

I wrote a little essay called Lessons I’ve Learned from my Children…(I Mean My Books)

I had a lovely release party for Glory Road in my hometown of Mobile! My sweet college roommate was the host and it was a blast seeing new and old friends and celebrating Glory Road’s entrance into the world!

My childhood bestfriend Laura, my roommate from Auburn Eleanor, and a good friend from high school Tracy.

My childhood bestfriend Laura, my roommate from Auburn Eleanor, and a good friend from high school Tracy.


I went to Atlanta the week of the release for the SIBA spring show, where booksellers from across the southeast come together to discuss books. I had the absolute pleasure of getting to know Jolina Petersheim while we tooled around Atlanta visiting bookstores and had a signing at Foxtale in Woodstock. She’s in a similar stage of life as me, although her children are younger than mine. We talked a lot about how we make writing work with our family lives and how we want our daughters to see us as moms who love them and also love writing stories.


Jolina’s newest book, Where the Light Gets In, came out just before mine did. It’s her 5th book!

Jolina’s newest book, Where the Light Gets In, came out just before mine did. It’s her 5th book!

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A beautiful crowd at Foxtale Book Shoppe!

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I’ve been meeting with local book clubs too, and Skyping (or FB chatting) with those who aren’t local. If you have a book club and you’re interested in reading one of my books and discussing it, let me know and I’ll try to make it (in person or online) if the schedule allows! I really love book clubs!

WHAT I’M READING:

I recently finished an early copy of Rachel Linden’s next novel, The Enlightenment of Bees. Rachel is another Thomas Nelson author, and I got to meet her in Seattle in January at the ALA Midwinter conference. If you like strong female protagonists, descriptions of luscious food and drink, and international stories, you need to snag this one.

I’m reading Susan Meissner’s A Fall of Marigolds and really enjoying it a lot. It’s set on Ellis Island in the early 1900s, and I’m loving seeing the inside workings of the hospitals there that helped incoming immigrants. She has several more books, including the recently released The Last Year of the War.

Over the winter and early spring I read the Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden. This was a case where I’d never heard of the book or the author but the cover jumped out at me. I started reading despite the fact that the subject matter—medieval Russia, in the middle of winter, with fairies, forest spirits, and winter demons—was not what I’d normally want to read. But I LOVED it. I mean, really loved it. The main female character is so strong and brave and flawed, and Arden’s writing is such a joy. Talk about flawless.

WHAT I’M WRITING

One month from today I turn in my manuscript for BOOK 4!

Oh, I guess I forgot to mention—I signed a three-book contract with Thomas Nelson, so I’ll be sticking around for a while ;)

Back to book 4. It’s set in the Bon Secour area of Gulf Shores, Alabama, in an active living community for seniors called Safe Harbor Village. Lily, a young woman whose husband has walked out, takes a hairdressing job in the Village, throwing her into the lives of the people in the community, including Rose, the cranky owner of the Village. The book is complete, but I’m still working on revisions before I turn it into my editor. Then I’ll take a mental break for the summer, then jump back in in August with book 5! Life goes on.

ODDS AND ENDS

Wednesday, April 24, I’ll be taking over the Bloom Facebook page all day, with some fun giveaways and lots of good conversation. I’d love for you to join us! You have to be a member of Bloom to participate, but don’t worry—all you have to do is click to join. it’s FREE. Areyouinbloom.com

If you’re in Birmingham or close by, I’m having a book signing at Homewood’s Little Professor, Thursday May 9, 6:00-8:00pm. I’d love to see you if you can swing by!

I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying these beautiful spring days. I’ll be back as soon as I can to let you know of new events and happenings in our world.

Love,
Lauren

SUMMER IS HERE!

Hi all!

It's been a while since I've updated my blog! The reasons are many and varied, but the main hold-up has been spring/end-of-school madness coupled with first-round edits on book three, which now has an official title of GLORY ROAD. (I'm tickled to say it's MY title! I'm three for three on choosing titles!)

How about a little photographic recap of the last several months....

Our Birmingham launch party for HURRICANE SEASON was a blast, and again I was amazed by the sweet support of our family and friends who came to celebrate with us. 

Our launch party for HURRICANE SEASON was a blast, and again I was amazed by the sweet support of our family and friends who came to celebrate with us. 

Our launch party for HURRICANE SEASON was a blast, and again I was amazed by the sweet support of our family and friends who came to celebrate with us. 

My brother and sister-in-law on the left and my adorable editor extraordinaire on the right.

My brother and sister-in-law on the left and my adorable editor extraordinaire on the right.

My sweet parents and my partner-in-crime and travel companion Anna on the left.

My sweet parents and my partner-in-crime and travel companion Anna on the left.

My daughters' sweet teachers came to the party!

My daughters' sweet teachers came to the party!

My sweet and proud husband.

My sweet and proud husband.

I've had a few book signings too. I chatted with author Kristy Woodson Harvey at Foxtale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA, and with author Emily Carpenter at The Book Exchange in Marietta, GA. 

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We've had some kid stuff going on too...

Sela the sassy narwhal. (The narwhal is the unicorn of the sea.)

Sela the sassy narwhal. (The narwhal is the unicorn of the sea.)

Sela's dance recital. 

Sela's dance recital. 

After Kate's end-of-the-year jazz performance. 

After Kate's end-of-the-year jazz performance. 

Lastly, we had a second launch party for HURRICANE SEASON in Mobile. Lots of friends and family there to help of celebrate! 

Kate loved helping the booksellers! She handed out bookmarks and added lots of cuteness.

Kate loved helping the booksellers! She handed out bookmarks and added lots of cuteness.

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I've also met with some amazing book clubs! 

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Whew. So, you know, not much going on at all ;) It's been a lot of fun though. I love meeting with book clubs and book groups--book people are definitely my people! And it's been a fun season of life with our girls too. They're getting older, which brings with it a measure of sadness because of the passage of time, but it's wonderful too--we can do more with them and they're enjoying each other a lot too. (As soon as I say that, sibling rivalry will kick back into high gear, I'm sure, but for now we're enjoying the laughter and friendship!)

WHAT I'M READING
I always like to tell you what I'm reading, and right now I'm reading this book that's totally obscure and I'm sure none of you have heard of it.....

Just kidding--it's Anne of Green Gables! I've never read it and I'm LOVING it! What a spunky and clever and hilarious girl. 

WHAT I'M WRITING
Nothing! And I admit, it's kind of nice. I'm currently working on first round edits for GLORY ROAD. I'd planned to have them finished by tomorrow when the kids get out of school, but I don't think I'm going to quite make it. I'm very close though. And as usual, I'm enjoying the editing process. Having a fresh set of eyes on my words (those of my wonderful editor Kim) has made the story even sharper and more alive. I can't wait for this one to release! It comes out in February. 

I'm thinking about my next book, of course, but I probably won't give it serious thought until a little later in the summer. The short 10 or so weeks of summer flies by and I want to enjoy it with my kids and catch up on as much reading as possible. (I do have a couple of ideas I'm batting around...)

I hope you all have a nice start to the summer--even if it's not official summer, it's the start of the school summer, and that counts for me!

Love,
Lauren

Hi friends! 

Lots of things are happening these days in my book/writing world, so I thought I'd give a little update.

The Hideaway

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This continues to be the little book that could! Bookpage called it a "word-of-mouth surprise hit," which means so much to me because it shows people are continuing to read it and tell their friends about it! It's nice to know its success isn't just because of a publisher's money or connections (though those are nice too!) but it's in large part due to people like you spreading the word. So thank you!! 

It recently reached #27 on the USA Today Bestseller list, its highest position yet! It was also sitting at #13 on the Amazon Charts Most Sold list, and #10 on the Wall Street Journal eBook bestseller list. Whew!

I'm continuing to meet with book clubs and library groups to discuss The Hideaway. My head is two books past this (working on book 3) so it's really fun to go back to these original characters and relationships.

Hurricane Season

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Friends keep asking me how this one is going, and it's wonderful to say it's totally out of my hands at this point! All edits are complete, the final cover is complete, endorsements are in. Release date is April 3! 

My experiences with The Hideaway and Hurricane Season have been so different. From the very beginning, I was in love with the world of The Hideaway and the characters. I knew it was a special story and I really had a deep feeling that people would like it. Hurricane Season felt different as I was writing it. It felt like an important story, but I had a lot of fear that it wouldn't live up to the first book and that I wouldn't feel as proud and confident as I did with The Hideaway. Well, I can honestly say those fears were unfounded, as I am so proud of this book. I've already told myself I'm going to avoid reviews like the plague because I don't want negative words to taint my own feelings about this book, but I have a feeling many people will empathize with the characters and situations in this story.

[Note: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about a book, whether they think it's amazing or completely terrible. I just wish they'd remember that an actual human wrote the words and could potentially read the review. The anonymity of the internet doesn't excuse cruelty!]

Bottom line, I love it and I can't wait to share the world of Betsy and Ty, Jenna and her girls, Franklin Dairy Farm and Rosie, and all the other characters with all of you! 

Others are getting excited about it too. It was recently listed on Bookpage's list of 2018 Most Anticipated Fiction! It was also listed in the Spring/Summer 2018 BuzzBooks from Publisher's Marketplace!

The book is available for preorder from anywhere you buy books. You can even ask your local bookstore to order you a copy. If you prefer to do it online, here are a few places: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Thomas Nelson, Indiebound

Book 3
This one will release in February 2019! The titling process is underway, so hopefully it won't be too much longer before I can reveal the official title. I have my working title, which I hope they'll settle on, but we'll see. A few weeks ago, I finished reading through my draft of the story. Here's an idea of what the manuscript looks like after a couple rounds of reading and Post-It-ing:

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My process in revisions is to read the entire manuscript on paper, make my corrections there in pencil, then transfer all those changes to the Word doc. Then I read through it again on the computer. Then I tinker. Then I usually I send it to beta readers then--a few trusted friends who will read it and give me feedback before I sent it to the editor. However, this time around my timeline is tighter so my only beta readers are my mom, my husband, and my agent. Pretty great crew though. I'm a little nervous BUT I'm loving this story and I feel really good about it. 

Reading

I've read some good books lately: 

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I'm on a major Sarah Addison Allen kick right now. Garden Spells was my first introduction into the genre of magical realism. Magical realism is different from fantasy in that it's set in a totally normal world--not something like the world of Harry Potter or Game of Thrones where it's obvious it's not the world we live in--but touches and hints of magic are thrown in. In Garden Spells, the main character Claire Waverly can change the course of someone's life (or at least their day) by baking particular ingredients into her food. There's also an apple tree in the backyard that throws apples at people it doesn't like, and if you eat one of the apples, you'll see the most important event of your life. The sequel, First Frost, is equally as dreamy and lush, and it continues the story of Claire, her sister Sydney, and Sydney's daughter Bay. I reread both these books in the last couple of months and I wish I were still in the Waverly world.

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I read Jenny Colgan's The Bookshop on the Corner over Christmas when I wanted something light and fun and easy, something that wouldn't tax my brain too much while I took a break from my manuscript, and this book totally fit what I wanted! It follows a young woman who loses her job and instead of taking another job she doesn't love, she moves to Scotland (from England) and opens a library-on-wheels. The book is laugh-out-loud funny and has charming Scottish people, a gorgeous landscape, and lots of books. 

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I read Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren over about six months because I wanted to savor it. I read it almost as a sort of morning devotion. It's about slowing down enough to see the holiness in even the most mundane moments. Chapters are broken down into things like "Making the Bed," "Brushing Teeth," "Losing Car Keys." (And they're not just about those specific things--she doesn't spend 20 pages talking about actually brushing teeth, trust me.) Good for anyone who feels caught up in the rush of life. But more than just a caution to slow down (because life doesn't really slow down, does it?), she helps us see the theology of every day by looking at the small moments and habits that form us. Really, really good. 

Book Clubs

I've had such fun with book clubs lately! Sometimes I forget to take photos, but here are a few recent ones. 

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                                                                               BUTS (Birmingham Ultra Trail Society) book club

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                                                                                           Basketweave and Books!

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                                                                    Bossypants Book Club (through Homewood Public Library)

 

Odds and Ends

Next Wednesday, I turn in my Book 3 manuscript to my editor and then Thursday head to Nashville to meet that editor for the first time, along with everyone else on my publishing team AND my agent, who I've never met in person. I'm really looking forward to it! It should be a great day of introductions, questions, and learning more about each other. 

Friday, I head to a huge cabin in north Alabama with fifty awesome and interesting women from my church for a long weekend of rest, eating, drinking, chatting, laughter, and more rest. I really can't wait for it. 

THEN I'll be on an official break from writing. For the first time since I started writing The Hideaway (FIVE YEARS AGO--WOW!!) I won't be jumping from one story right into another one. I think it'll be good for my brain and my creativity to take some time off before beginning my next one. (Although the idea for Hurricane Season and book 3 both came to me out of left field when I wasn't expecting them, so who knows when the idea for the next one will begin to materialize? When it does, I'll just take notes for a while!)

I hope you're all doing well and hanging in there while this chilly weather continues to cling. I'm so very ready for warmer weather. I can feel the heat and my toes in the sand!

Take care, 

Lauren

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving week!

Hi friends! It has been a while! What's taking up my time these days, you ask? Here's a quick visual.

Sela and Kate on Hero day at school.

Sela and Kate on Hero day at school.

Kate's 8th birthday party!

Kate's 8th birthday party!

Sela at Christmas/Frozen/Cinderella madness at the mall.

Sela at Christmas/Frozen/Cinderella madness at the mall.

But what's been taking up my free time the most? 

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This friendly little chart is keeping me on track to finish this draft of book 3 by the time my kids get out of school for something like three weeks for Christmas. I made up the schedule when I realized that having to squeeze writing time into the days while my kids are home through New Years would make all of us fairly miserable. Especially the days leading up to Christmas. It's always a bit of a struggle to keep things peaceful and restful in the midst of Christmas frenzy, trying to remember what and who we're celebrating, but much more so if I'm trying to wrangle words as well. So, deadline to the rescue. And I have to admit, as I near the end of this story, I'm starting to feel a teeny bit excited about it. I'll put it aside after the 13th and hopefully not pick it up again until at least after Christmas, if not when the kids are back in school. Then it'll be a last push to reread, ask a few people to read it for me, and do final revisions before turning it in Feb. 1. 

HURRICANE SEASON
I can't wait to get this book out into your hands! It releases April 3, 2018. In short, it's about marriage, motherhood, sisters, daughters, cows, photography, and hurricanes. I'm a little biased, but I think you'll like it ;)

THE HIDEAWAY
This sweet little thing has stayed on the USA Today Bestseller list for 8 weeks! Amazing. And thank you for helping it make it to the list! I've had so much fun talking and Skyping with books clubs over the last several months, and I have several more on the calendar in 2018. If you're part of a book club, I'd love to come visit--or Skype if you're not in the Birmingham or Mobile area! Shoot me and email and let's talk!

WHAT I'M READING THESE DAYS
 

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I recently finished this little gem, The Longest Night by Andria Williams. It's her debut novel but you'd never know it by its beautiful prose and tight tension. It's centered around the country's only fatal accident at a nuclear reactor (in the early 60s), and the marriage of one of the reactor's operators and his wife. I really enjoyed it. 

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This was another fascinating read, about the man who led the exploration of a portion of Alaska; his wife Sophie who stayed behind; and a wonderfully crotchety old man writing letters to a young staffer at a museum in Alpine, Alaska. Eowyn Ivey wrote The Snow Child, which I haven't read, but it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, so I'm assuming it's pretty good ;) This one kept me up many nights until I finished it. It was beautiful.

COMING UP
If you're anywhere near Mobile, AL, I'll be signing copies of The Hideaway at LUSH Home and Garden during the Christmas at the Loop holiday open house! It's Friday Dec 1 from 5-8pm. I'd love to see you there! Remember BOOKS make great gifts! Especially signed ones. And I can personalize them for anyone you want. 

I hope you all have a restful Thanksgiving with family and friends!

Love,
Lauren

 

 

 

USA Today Bestseller!

So, THE HIDEAWAY had a bit of a good week last week! Wednesday I learned that the book made it on to the Top 20 Most Sold list on Amazon, coming in at #17. This on its own was exciting enough. 

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THEN, oh but then, on Thursday, I returned home from dropping my kids off at school, started scrambling eggs for breakfast, and saw an email from my friends at Thomas Nelson informing me that THE HIDEAWAY debuted at #39 on the USA Today bestseller list!

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I'm not exaggerating when I tell you I sobbed over my plate of scrambled eggs. My brain was total mush for the rest of the day. It's crazy that we keep getting good news about the book--making it onto these lists, seeing numbers continue to rise, etc. But honestly, the best part of it is that daily, I'm receiving email messages from readers telling me how much they enjoyed the book. Those messages are so precious, and I've saved every single one in an email folder. I plan to pull them back out and read them on difficult writing days or when a particularly stinging negative review comes in. So THANK YOU to all of you who've read the book and THANK YOU for spreading the word to your friends and family. I love knowing Mags and Sara (William and Crawford, Dot and Bert, Glory and Major, and of course Allyn) are having such an effect on readers. 

**Sidenote: The eBook was on sale for $1.99 for all of August, BUT in case you missed out or know of someone else who did, the sale has been extended for all of September! Please spread the word to your book-loving friends. Here's a link to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks.

READING:

I just finished reading an advance copy of Billy Coffey's STEAL AWAY HOME. 

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I loved this book. Here's my review of it: During the course of one fateful night--his first game in the Major League--Billy Coffey's main character, Paul Cross, is confronted by his childhood love, aspirations, and regrets. Baseball fans will love the behind-the-scenes peek into a night game in the Major Leagues, but even non-baseball fans will be pulled into the beauty and tension of Coffey's writing, the lovely and tragic Blue Ridge Mountain settings, and his compelling characters who make both selfless and heartbreaking choices. This is a powerful story of grief, love, forgiveness, and holy mystery, and I loved it. Billy Coffey is a master storyteller. 

Next, I'm reading Patti Callahan Henry's THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER'S END, Emily Beck Cogburn's AVA'S PLACE, and Johnnie Bernhard's A GOOD GIRL. The four of us are going to be on a panel at the Louisiana Book Festival at the end of October. 

WRITING:

I've started going through my rough draft of book 3 (which I'm tentatively calling Glory Road). I'm about 5 chapters in and relieved that I still like the story! I think the three women in this story will resonate with readers and fans of Sara and Mags, as well as fans of Betsy and Jenna, the main characters in next April's HURRICANE SEASON. Right now, I'm trying to parcel out my day to include a decent chunk of writing/revising, reading, and "adulting" i.e., keeping the laundry from overtaking the house, making sure dinner gets on the table, making sure Kate does her 20 minutes of reading a day and keeping Sela from bringing cicadas inside the house. 

Speaking of HURRICANE SEASON, I just received the designed pages of the book and I have my last chance to read through and catch any last hiccups before production begins! So exciting. I can't wait to get this book out to everyone. I love it. 

Hope y'all are well and finding time to do things you enjoy. And if any of you are in Florida, please be safe and careful. 

Lauren

Back to School (aka the most bittersweet day of the year)

Hi friends! It's been a while. First, a little housekeeping:

It feels pretty self-serving to direct you to my Facebook page, but since you're here to see what's going on in my world, I guess it's not too much of a stretch to think you might be interested to know I post more frequently (but hopefully not enough to be annoying ;) on my author Facebook page. If you haven't stopped by there, feel free--find it here.  You can also find me on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, if you're so inclined. 

What's going on with me:

My babies went back to school today!

 

As expected, I feel both relief and sorrow in equal measures. I loooove summer and really enjoyed the freedom of this summer--not having to get up and get going any any certain time, letting the kids stay up late, loose schedules, etc. But there was also the bickering. And the "I'm bored"s. So going back to school is a relief because my kids (especially my 7 year old Kate who LOVES to know the EXACT plan for the day) will have a schedule for their days and I will have time on my own. . . but I really will miss them. And my baby Sela (just turned 5 in July) is in kindergarten now, sniff sniff. I could go on and on about this, but suffice it to say, I'm a little heartbroken. 

However, my time opens up so much now--from 8 until 2:45 I am on my own, which feels like a ridiculously long amount of time, though I fear I could waste a bunch of that time if I'm not careful. I had to be so careful with my four hours a day of preschool last year, and I know i need to be on my guard to not think, "Oh, I have pleeeeenty of time for writing. I can do that later". . . and find myself at 2:45 picking the kids up with nothing to show for it. I want to make the most of my time and do the things I need/want to do, so that when I pick the kids up, I'm not still thinking of all the things I didn't do. I feel like that happened a lot last year and I was always operating with a tiny bit of frustration in the afternoons because my writing/alone time for the day was over and I left things unfinished. Sending *both* my kiddos off to big school makes me more than ever think I don't want to waste time with them feeling frustrated by things I need to do. As everyone says, kids won't notice a dirty floor or unfolded laundry (or an unfinished chapter), but they will notice a totally distracted mama. 

Speaking of writing:

Hurricane Season is mostly wrapped up and edited. Soon, I will receive page proofs--essentially the book all laid out nice and pretty for one more read-through before it goes into production. It's crazy to think I'll be doing this whole shebang again next April! (April 3, 2018! And shameless plug, you can preorder it anywhere you buy books! Here's the link to Amazon.)

After I get over the shock of this quiet house and my brain settles down, I will be hitting book 3 hard! I have a very rough draft of it already written, but it needs a lot of work. I'm excited about it but also slightly terrified. There's this feeling of, "I know I've done this before (twice now) but what if I just can't make it happen again?!" But I trust that I can. 

Events coming up:

I am meeting with various book clubs this fall--some in person, some over Skype--to discuss The Hideaway. I'll also be in Greenville, SC, on August 28 at M. Judson Booksellers. I'm part of their event called Page Pairings, which pairs books with wine--not sure how they do that, but I'm all for it! I know of one author who's going to be there, Joy Callaway, and I'm so excited to finally meet her in person. 

I'll also be in Baton Rouge, LA, October 28 for the Louisiana Book Festival. There are a ton of awesome authors coming, so if you're anywhere near Baton Rouge, come check it out. 

What I'm reading:

First Frost is the sequel to Sarah Addison Allen's first novel, Garden Spells. If you've never read anything in the magical realism genre, this is it. It's not super magical, a la Harry Potter, but it's our normal, everyday world with small touches of magic/mystery thrown in. I love it. And I'm loving this book. It's delicious. 

On my list to read next (ish):

Ann Kidd Taylor is the daughter of Sue Monk Kidd, also known as the author of one of my very favorite books, The Secret Life of Bees, which was the book that made me think, "Maybe I want to try my hand at this fiction writing thing." I admit I checked the book out just because of who her mom is, but the story is really intriguing and I'm hearing good things about it. 

This is another WWII novel, but different in that it's not set in Europe. A woman learns her Jewish father was a sergeant in charge of a platoon of black soldiers in 1940s Alabama. 

 

That's about it from me. I'm going to keep myself busy for the next hour before I run out the door and dash down the street to meet my kiddos at school pick-up. Never have I wanted 3:00 to get here more than today! After today, I probably won't feel as out of sorts (and that fresh new Word document will start calling my name) but today I can't wait to see their faces!

Good luck with school if that's your thing. If not, enjoy the rest of your summer!

Lauren

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.

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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 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!

Catching up...

I've received my first award for The Hideaway. My seven-year-old Kate brought this to me a couple days after the book came out.

 

Naturally, it's the best kind of prize. Done novel. Check. 

In case you missed it, I posted photos of the book release party on Facebook--you can find them here. It was a great night, full of new and old friends and great conversation. 

 

On book reviews: 
My general rule for myself regarding reviews is DON'T READ THEM! I do read them if I'm tagged in them however, and I've been tagged in many lately because The Hideaway is the focus of a blog tour right now through TLC Blog Tours. You can see the whole schedule here. It's been really fun to hear people's thoughts of the book, and a few of the reviews have been especially nice to hear because the reviewer picked up on a theme or idea that I hoped would come through to readers. Here are a couple...

"This particular plot has become a classic for a reason – in the hands of a good writer, it makes a powerful (and lovely) story, as it does here in The Hideaway." From Marlene Harris's review at Reading Reality

"The Hideaway and Sweet Bay, Alabama were like additional characters. They held such prominence and beauty in the book, and I loved seeing the history The Hideaway B&B had through the years–first for Mags, then for Sara with Mags, and finally for Sara without Mags." From Heather's review at Bewitched Bookworms.  

I've also had a few late-night texts and early-morning emails from people I know and don't know telling me how much they enjoyed the story and various reasons why. These are so wonderful because usually the person has just finished reading the story and I get their immediate thoughts. One sweet friend who had just closed the book said The Hideaway made her grateful for the beauty and brokenness in her own life. That my story could lead someone to reflect on her life in that way is the highest praise I could get. 

Upcoming events for The Hideaway:
I'll be on Talk of Alabama (Birmingham's ABC 33/40) the morning of May 25 to talk about the book. My first TV appearance! Not nervous at all. (Bites fingernails.)  I have a signing and talk at the Homewood Public Library on July 13, and hopefully another signing or two around Birmingham. I'll let you know details when and if I figure them out. I'll also be talking to a few book clubs either in person or through the magic of FaceTime or Skype. (I'm really excited about doing these!) I'm also working on setting up a signing or two in the Mobile area, so I'll keep you posted on that and any other signings as they come up. 

Hurricane Season:
I turned in my manuscript for my second book a few weeks ago and just received the letter and notes back from my editor! I wasn't expecting it so soon, so it was a total surprise, but a really good one. As soon as I got the email yesterday, I quickly scanned the first part of the letter and was so relieved to see that she liked it! She had only read about 100 pages from a very early draft of the story, and it was a really long time ago, so I had no idea if the story would sit well with her. I've felt a whole new kind of pressure with this one, being the sophomore book. You always hear about authors writing a great first book, then people not being happy with the follow-up. Not that I have any control over how people react to my books, but the goal, obviously, is to continue putting books out there that readers can connect with and that fit together well as a whole. (We want the body of work to be *cohesive* as Tim Gunn would say.) 

Book 3:
I've been thinking ahead to what book I'll do next after Hurricane. (I know, it's crazy to think that far ahead, but since we're already into edits with Hurricane, it really is time to be thinking about what comes next. Plus, I'm getting the itch to write again.) Back in 2015, I was working on another book that I thought might be the follow-up to Hideaway. I decided to go with Hurricane as the follow-up, so this other book is still here with me, and I think I'm going to submit it as my book 3. These characters have stayed in the back of my mind these last couple of years, and I keep thinking about the setting and the premise. I just sent a summary of the story to my agent, and I thought I'd be digging back into the draft of the story, but now it looks like it'll have to wait a few weeks while I work on edits for Hurricane.

Suffice it to say, I'm seriously going to need to work hard these next few weeks of school to get as much done as I can before summer hits and the kiddos are out of school. I long for summer for so many reasons (hello not having to make school lunches at 7am every day) but it's also hard because of the small amount of time I have during the day to write. I think I saw something a few days ago that said my youngest Sela has 17 days of school left. So I have 17 school days to crank out as much as I can! If I can just get myself off Homewood Trading, that'll be a good first step toward not wasting so much time...

Lastly, what I'm reading.

I'm loving Karen White's newest book. And isn't that cover gorgeous? It came out the same day The Hideaway did. She's such a master of telling a great southern story. 

 

I think this will come next. I've read her first two books, The Historian and Swan Thieves, and I've been waiting for another one from her. (The Historian is SO good.) I've read great things about this next novel. 

Hope you all have a great rest of the week as the countdown to summer gets underway...

 

 

 

To not falling asleep during spelling homework

A few days ago, I fell asleep at the kitchen table while going over spelling words with Kate. Chin propped in hand, eyes closed, sank into sleep, and jerked awake. All while Kate carefully wrote out "germ" and drew a little googly-eyed creature next to it. (The assignment was to draw a picture of the words.) It was 3:30 in the afternoon. I'm not proud of this, but I'm not surprised either. Sometimes when my brain hits total overload, it just shuts down. It was like my eyelids were telling my brain, "You better find some place to land because I'm coming down in three...two...one..." 

The day before, I'd spent a couple of hours in our new house with our decorator (who's also such a nice, fun person, so major bonus) and deliberated over everything from paint colors to how to hang a glass shower door here without cracking it on this awkward corner ledge. And do we do a built-in desk here or a separate desk? Should the girls' beds be arranged this way or that way? And wait, does that ceiling look a little bit pink to you? Then there was the backing of more boxes (we fit packing into the margins of the day), working on finding a good balance for the social media aspect of being an author, keeping Kate and Sela from bickering over the white blanket, and analyzing Sela's eye to see if it's red from pink eye or just because she has a cold. The next day, I spent an hour with the wonderful Jake Reiss from Alabama Booksmith talking about my book, which sent my head spinning in a million different directions ("Wait, did he just say he liked my book? I wonder if I can ask him to say it again."), worked on the guest blog posts that are due soon, researched mattresses (what's the deal with this Casper mattress that comes in a box and unfolds over the course of a couple days?), and kept Kate and Sela from fighting over the white blanket (see a pattern here?). 

That's when my brain gave up the fight during the spelling of "germ."

I've been overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion before--funny how our brains can be exhausted just like our bodies can after a lot of exercise--but this time, all the things swirling around are really good things. I've been waiting on both of these for a long time--moving into a bigger house that we get to decorate and settle into, and my book making its way into the world--so it's all pretty darn exciting. My brain just has to take a breather now and then. Though hopefully not at the kitchen table again. 

I'm trying to do things that allow me little bits of mental break and relaxation, even though there's not much free time these days. Most "free" time is spent packing boxes or responding to a question over email or refereeing yet another fight over that white blanket. But I'm trying to keep a book with me at all times--in the car if I'm early for pick-up, in the kitchen while I'm waiting for water to boil, etc. Reading is my go-to stress relief and it helps turn down the buzz in my brain. I'm also trying to save the the first bit of my early-morning work time for this little book called "Seeking God's Face." It's a way to pray through the Bible in a year through fixed, common prayers. I don't always fit it in as regularly as I'd like, but when I do, it calms and reorients me before I start another day. And exercise. Yesterday, I found pounding out Natalie's 9:30 YCross was a great way to tamp down the nervous energy. And sleep. Getting in bed at 9:00? Sign me up.

The move happens two weeks from today, and the book comes out in 40 days. We have about 100 more boxes to pack (though Matt says we have about 30 empty boxes in the garage and once we fill those up, we're not moving anything else ;), a launch party to plan, several more articles and guest posts to write, another book to polish and send to my editor, a new house to figure out, and two little girls to entertain and to hide from a lot of this chaos so they don't get nervous or sense that things are changing as quickly as they are. And probably many other things I'm forgetting about. Whew. Hopefully we'll all stay healthy through all this and by the time May rolls around, all will have gone...well, I was going to say smoothly, and while that's a good goal, I'm sure there will be things that go terrifically awry, because that's life. So I'll say hopefully by the time we get to May, we can look back and enjoy the good parts and laugh about the crazy parts. And then move on to whatever else comes our way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

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! 

 

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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download
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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download

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.

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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!

The Friday 5

1. First things first. Unbelievable, shocking, knee-weakening, heavens-opening-up-and-shining-down news hit us out of the blue yesterday. We all cried tears of disbelief and relief and thankfulness. As my mom said, the English language doesn't have enough words to explain how we feel. "Thankful" falls pitifully short.  

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FullSizeRender

That above is my mom. This is how she's feeling right about now. It's how we're all feeling.

On to other things...

2. It is snowing. In Birmingham. I know this because I am at home, not in Tennessee, where Matt and I were supposed to be today. He was going to be running in a 12-hour trail race tomorrow in a little town outside Murfreesboro, but we made the call late this morning to not go, due to the general messiness of Tennessee today. We were a little concerned about icy roads. Our girls were already prepared to spend the weekend at their grandparents' house, so we went ahead and took them out there. As such, right now, Matt and I are huddled in blankets, watching a movie (the wonders of Joe Versus the Volcano) and reading (I just started The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler.) I'm happy to be watching the snow from inside my warm nest instead of gearing up for spending all day tomorrow in a tent, possibly reading and writing, but probably huddled under a down sleeping bag, teeth chattering, mumbling under my (frozen) breath about the Black Toe Run. 

(That was a little dramatic, but as I've said before, I'm a certified cold person.)

3. The book I've mentioned here a few times, Voyage to the Star Kingdom, is now available to order.

star voyage

star voyage

An incredible amount of people have already bought it and passed it around. If you're interested, find it on Amazon here. The author is putting all proceeds into a fund for the family this book is based on.

4. I just finished reading a wonderful book called Margot, by Jillian Cantor.

margot

margot

It tells the fictional story of what life may have been like for Margot, Anne Frank's sister, if she hadn't died in Bergen-Belsen, as records show she did, but instead escaped the Nazis and fled to America. It's a great story, and I sunk completely into the character of Margot (or Margie, as she calls herself in her new American life), but what made it really important and tense and dramatic was how it portrayed life for Jews who immigrated to the US in the 40s and 50s. They had escaped the horrors of being a Jew in Nazi Europe, but then arrived here to find that people still nailed flaming torches to synagogues, taunted Jewish schoolchildren, treated them unfairly in the work place. It was a quiet book, but like I said, tense and important. In fact, I think it could be as important a read as Anne Frank's diary. It just portrays a different direction someone's life could have gone after hiding from the Nazis for so long, and the farther we get from the atrocities of the Holocaust, the more important it is to keep telling those stories. Anne was a real girl with a head full of dreams and hopes and desires, as we all know because of her diary that was found and published. But Margot was a real girl too, and because her diary was never found, we know virtually nothing of her. She was snuffed out too soon. This book gives her a life, even if it's a fictional one.

5. I had lunch at a new little place downtown this week called Feast and Forest, owned partly by Kristen Farmer Hall. If you live in Birmingham, check it out. It's just off 2nd Avenue North on 24th Street, sort of behind Urban Standard. I had the "Ham Sammich" and potato soup and it was lovely. And the whole vibe of the place is perfect--it's really tiny inside, but warm and cozy and inviting. Here's more on Kristen and her partner opening Feast and Forest.

Have a great weekend, play in the snow if you get some, and don't buy all the bread.

Friday 5 on Wednesday: Adding my "Best of" to the pile

*Note: Instead of posting my "Friday 5" on Friday, I’m posting it today, the day before Christmas Eve. Chances are I’d forget to post it tomorrow or Friday, so today it is.** Apparently this is the time of year that anyone with a blog and/or half an interest in reading posts their “best of” lists of books from 2015. And apparently, I’m no different. Over the last few months, several Goodreads friends got their “goal met” badges, having read all fifty-two books they pledged to read in 2015. I didn’t post a goal for the same reason I don’t make New Years’ resolutions—why put that much pressure on yourself?! Instead, I just read as much as I could, which is pretty much what I do all the time. And if I do say so myself, I read some awesome books. It’s hard to whittle them down to the five best, but in the spirit of my Friday 5, here are five books I really, really enjoyed this year. I highly recommend them. (And because I’m not a trend-of-the-moment kind of girl, not all of these were published in 2015.)

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  1. Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. Yes, this is a relative oldie. But oh, is it a good one. I put it off, mainly because I thought it was the book Robinson wrote about the death of her husband, a subject I wasn’t eager to read about. When the book club I participate in when I’m not in the middle of another book I don’t want to stop reading (seriously, I’m a bad book club member) chose this book, I decided to give it a go. It sucked me in at the beginning and held me tight until the end. I was so engrossed in John Ames meandering thoughts and discussions, covering everything from a father’s love and devotion to deep spiritual conversations and holy humor. When I finished, I had at least twenty pages dog-eared where I’d found quotes I didn’t want to lose. Like this one: (he’s writing this to his young son)

“I can tell you this, that if I’d married some rosy dame and she had given me ten children and they had each given me ten grandchildren, I’d leave them all, on Christmas Eve, on the coldest night of the world, and walk a thousand miles just for the sight of your face, your mother’s face. And if I never found you, my comfort would be in that hope, my lonely and singular hope which could not exist in the whole of Creation except in my heart and in the heart of the Lord. This is just a way of saying I could never thank God sufficiently for the splendor He has hidden from the world—your mother excepted, of course—and revealed to me in your sweetly ordinary face.”

Break my heart a thousand times.

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2. My Sunshine Away, M.O. Walsh. I found out about this author and book on Twitter. He’s a Southern author (Baton Rouge) and many people who *know* Southern books had recommended this one. I took it with me when my husband ran a three-day trail race in Tennessee. I had three chunks of time, each a few hours long, where I could read, nap, write, swing in a hammock. The hammock and napping didn’t happen because I was too busy keeping watch for strange bugs—things like four-inch-long walking sticks, bright red fire ants, and other creepy crawly things that came out in hordes when the runners left and everything got quiet. I didn’t write either—I got sucked into this book instead. It is dark and gritty and funny and raw and I devoured it. The ending was heartbreakingly sweet and emotional and I didn’t see it coming. Check this guy out. I’ll be looking for his next book.

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3. Rainbow Rowell. I know, this is an author, not a book. I read two of her books this year—Fangirl and Eleanor & Park—and there’s no way I can choose between them. I’m in love with her YA characters. I haven’t read one of her adult books (that sounds so dirty) yet, but I probably will. She has cornered the market as far as I’m concerned on creating youngish characters who are achingly real and flawed and earnest and hopeful and delicious.

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4. Lost Lake, Sarah Addison Allen. SAA writes magical realism—a genre I knew nothing about before reading her Garden Spells—based in luscious Southern settings. I loved Lost Lake because it had characters I wanted to root for, a lovely cast of old/elderly characters which I love if the author gets them right, a sweet romance, an enchanted setting of lakeside cottages, and just the right touch of magic. I’d love to see this one on the big screen.

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5. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr. I almost hesitate to add this one because—duh. Most everyone has read it and everyone knows it’s good. But it’s not just good. It’s spectacular. I was so engrossed in the story and the various settings—the apartment in Paris, the home in Saint Malo, the school in Germany, the sound of the bombs and gunshots, the fear, Marie-Laure’s fingers on the braille, the snails in the shallow water, her great-uncle’s voice transmitted over the crackly radio—I had to reorient myself to my living room, or my bedroom, or wherever I was when I shut the book. I was completely transported.

I still don’t plan to set a reading goal on Goodreads, because—pressure. But I will continue to read as much as I can, as widely as I can. When I find myself hiding in the kitchen under the guise of unloading the dishwasher or working really hard on dinner but I’m really crouched on the floor so I can finish one more chapter—I know I’ve found a good one.