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

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

Contest closed--winner is Robin Ruiz!

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

 

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

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

Welcome Colleen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books— always print. Calendar— electronic

11. Chocolate or vanilla?

Both!

12. Coffee or tea? Or something else?

Coffee! And vodka.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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!

Bookish People--Judy Fogarty

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Books: print or e-reader?

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

11. Similarly, calendar: paper or electronic?

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

12. Chocolate or vanilla?

Chocolate. Especially dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt.

13. Coffee or tea?

Starbucks Sumatra, always with half and half.

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

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

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

Thanks Judy and thank you for reading!

Bookish People: Joy Callaway

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11.  Chocolate or vanilla?

Both!

12.  Coffee or tea? Or something else?

Coffee with coconut cream.

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

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

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

Thanks Joy, and thank you for reading!

Bookish People--Emily Carpenter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11.  Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate all the way.

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

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

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

Thanks Emily for playing and thank YOU for reading!

Bookish People--Ella Joy Olsen

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Ella and to you for reading!

The Friday 5: Blurbs, Books, and back to regular life

The kids went back to school this week--woohoo! It was a "short" week, meaning four days of school instead of five (and two instead of three for my preschooler) but the parental readjustment to making lunches and getting myself dressed before 8 more than made up for whatever shortness the school people intended. I have to say though--at the end of this holiday break, I wasn't as at the end of my rope as I have been in the past. The girls (age 6 and 3.5) played together more and better than ever before. Sure, they were often dancing on the fine line between total contentment and total angry hysteria, but they stayed on the right side of that line more than the wrong side. So for that, I was hugely thankful. Anyway, end of babbling. The Friday 5...

1. Nothing is really happening yet with The Hideaway (book #1), but in February, I think we (me + my "team" at HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson) will start to talk about preliminary marketing things. My agent suggested I come up with a list of authors we could contact for blurbs and/or endorsements for my book. This is a wee bit uncomfortable (basically asking for praise) but I think it'll be part of the job, so I better get used to it. And all authors do it, and probably all authors get asked to do it, so it won't be anything new. I've put together a list of people I'd like to contact--some are total pie-in-the-sky authors who could possibly just sniff at me, and some are a little more accessible, and hopefully more likely to be willing to help. Or who knows, maybe those big-time authors will take it as a chance to help out a little writer like me.

Every since I heard a writer tell the story of how she asked Fannie Flagg to write a blurb for her book and Fannie basically told her to write the blurb herself and she'd sign off on it, I've been sort of wishy-washy about blurbs. They don't necessarily make me buy a book, but I know they are important to some readers, as in, "If Danielle Steele/John Grisham/E.L. James says this is a good book, then by golly, I'm gonna read it." For those readers, it'll be nice to have some authors who write similar types of southern fiction to say nice things about my book. And if, I don't know, let's say Rick Bragg happens to read my book and has anything even remotely positive to say about it, that'd be okay by me.

2. I just today signed up for Hoover library's Southern Voices book festival. If you've never been and you like books and you live anywhere bear Birmingham, you should come to it. They have a handful of authors who speak every year and I promise you, it's interesting whether or not you're a writer. These are great writers, but also great speakers. I'm most excited to hear Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, the husband/wife team who wrote The Tilted World, about the 1927 flood in Mississippi. Beth Ann is a poet and Tom is a novelist. (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is one of my favorites.) I'm also looking forward to hearing Laura Lane McNeal, author of Dollbaby. I haven't read this yet, but it takes place in New Orleans, so that automatically makes me a fan. (I love New Orleans and part of The Hideaway takes place there.) But the cool thing is, after Katrina came through and wrecked things, Laura took a different direction with her life and decided to pursue her passion of writing. Dollybaby is her debut and it's gotten a LOT of attention. I'm hoping to glean lots of wisdom and inspiration from her.

As a side note, I planned to attend the Friday night talk with Erik Larson. He writes nonfiction that reads like fiction--like supercharged, edge-of-your-seat fiction. Pick up Dead Wake or Devil in the White City (or probably any of his others) and you won't be able to put it down. I got online at 9:02 to order tix (they went on sale at 9.) I went through the whole payment system on my phone, entered my info, got all the way to the end, then got a message that said payment didn't go through due to a problem with the system and to please try again in a few moments. Well, a few moments later I was working my rear off in YCross, so I waited an hour until class was over. And Friday night was sold out. (Sad face.)

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3. For those of you following what's going on with my mom, she's just finishing up her fourth out of six week-long chemo treatments. She'll go home tomorrow for what we hope and pray is two weeks of rest, good food, relaxation, and visits with friends and family before she goes back in for her fifth week of inpatient chemo. Cancer is bad. Chemo is bad (I mean, it's good, but seriously, it's so bad). But I read something today that offered some calm:It's really hard to not worry, not FRET, not be anxious. But that's what Jesus tells us to do. DO NOT worry. DO NOT be anxious. It's hard, but we try.

4. My friend Anne Riley has written a children's book based on the story of a family friend of hers. It's beautifully written and illustrated, and it will be released in the next couple of weeks. As Anne says in her press release, "Inspired by a real-life family, Voyage to the Star Kingdom is a vivid reminder that our stories don't end in death, and that the King is indeed making all things new."

star voyage

star voyage

Here's the gorgeous cover: 

This is her blog post that tells all about the book and the family that inspired it. Rather than me paraphrasing everything, just read it from her. Heads up, you may need some tissues.

(And PS, Anne is also a YA writer and her second book PULL is coming out in FEBRUARY! I've already preordered it on Amazon!)

tami-and-eric-taylor

tami-and-eric-taylor

5. Eric and Tami Taylor have the best marriage that's ever been on TV, I'm convinced. A real, honest, loving, patient, selfless, imperfect but hardworking marriage. That's not common. Long live Mr and Mrs. Coach Taylor. (And the Dillon Panthers.) 

See y'all next week.

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.