31 DAYS OF BOOK CLUBS AND BEZELLIA GROVE . . . a great big Giveaway and Celebration of National Reading Group Month

Bezellia Grove is growing up and coming out in paper on TUESDAY, AUGUST 2!

To celebrate, I’ve planned a special, and I do mean, SPECIAL, celebration and giveaway. Here’s the skinny:

All Book Clubs who choose THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE as one of their reads during the month of October will receive the following:

Free Skype, i-Chat or Phone Call with me.

Maizelle’s Pound Cake Recipe

Personalized Book Plates

Your Club Featured on My Blog and Author Facebook Page

Now for the GRAND PRIZE. Drum roll here . . .

The Book Club that meets during the month of October and hosts the MOST AUTHENTIC Southern Luncheon or Dinner with a 1950s or 1960s theme will receive the following:

Maizelle’s Pound Cake made by the author for the club’s November or December meeting

A Name of the group’s choosing (approved by the author) included in my third novel

A Skype, i-Chat, or Phone Call with Random House Sales Rep and Books on the Nightstand co-host Ann Kingman
Ann will highlight the best books of 2011 for book club reads and give you a peek into what’s coming in 2012

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove necklaces that feature the new paperback cover (limit 12)

Advanced Reader Copies (limit 12) of my next book. Be the first to talk about it!

In addition to the above. I, along with a gang of my very favorite author and blogger friends, will be writing special posts all about and for book clubs on my blog from now until the end of October. During October, National Reading Group Month, you’ll find a little something everyday. Hence the name of the celebration, 31 Days of Bezellia Grove. You never know who will turn up so stay tuned!

Finally, you can schedule your club’s chat with me. Take a quick look at the calendar and pick an available date and then email it to me at susangilmore@mac.com. And don’t forget to support your local indie!

Posted July 5, 2011 at 11:31 am · 81 comments · Leave a Comment

HOW WOULD I WRITE AN ENDING FOR JAPAN?

The images of destruction caused by last week’s 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan keep streaming on the web and across my television screen.  I’ve decided that it might just be impossible this time to find the words that would adequately describe this nation’s suffering.

But as a novelist, a simple thought keeps coming to mind:  If this were fiction, how would I write the ending?  Could I write an ending that would include resolution and hope for the Japanese people.  Could I write a return to normalcy and how long would that take to rebuild homes, schools, and entire communities?

I do know that my story would include the students from the University of Calgary who held a bake sale to raise money for the relief effort and the Florida preschooler who is selling her own art, also to raise money. (To date, more than $300 have been collected.)

My story would include grand acts of humanity – governments and non-profits sending money, food, medical supplies and rescue teams.  My story would include the smallest gestures – a warm hug for an elderly resident displaced from her home.  Yes, in my story, not a day would pass without extraordinary efforts being made.

My story would include hundreds of millions of people around the world choosing to TEXT “REDCROSS”  to 90999 for an immediate $10.00 donation to the relief effort that would appear on your next phone bill or going to AmeriCares.org, an organization that is already there on the ground in Japan, and making a donation.

My story would end with no one forgetting as the days go by and the images of destruction stream less often before us that the suffering in Japan, as in Haiti, will continue for a long time.

Posted March 15, 2011 at 7:33 am · 1 comment · Leave a Comment

BUT THEN I KILL IT . . .

“The way I write, I have a novel in my head for a long time that I think about, and in those months it is so beautiful, so incredibly profound . . . The novel in my imagination travels with me like a small lavender moth making loopy circles around my head. . . . As soon as I start to put it on the page I kill it.” ~ Ann Patchett

A friend sent me this quote from Ann Patchett several weeks ago, and I have read it every day since. It perfectly describes the challenge, and possibly burden, I have been feeling lately when I sit down at my desk to work. Simply put, I have fallen in love with the characters walking through the pages of THE FUNERAL DRESS, and I desperately want to share their stories as honestly as I can. Anything less and I will feel as though I have failed them.

At times, I am bound by my words, so incapable of translating the images in my head onto paper. Then there are moments when it seems as though the words literally drip from my pencil onto the page. (Yes, I do use a pencil.)

Lorena Lane and Nolan King, among others in Cullen, Tennessee, have morphed from a figment of my imagination to nothing less than human – every day trusting me with a little more of their own stories. And every morning when I sit down at my desk to write, I wonder if I am up to the task, if I can take them where they need to go.

Posted February 28, 2011 at 10:20 am · 5 comments · Leave a Comment

SEWING LESSONS AND EMBALMING ROOMS

People often ask me about specific characters in a book or the writing process, but seldom do people ask me about the research involved in developing a story. And this may very well be one of the aspects of the process that I love the most. For The Funeral Dress (the book I’m currently writing), I have already taken sewing lessons, interviewed several Sequatchie County residents, talked to local social workers and visited an area funeral home.

OK, I admit that when I walked into the embalming room, I felt anxious, very anxious. The smell, the tools, the stainless steel tables all contributed to a certain amount of sensory overload. But to tell the truth, the hardest thing I’ve done to date were the sewing lessons.

I’ve hemmed a skirt or two and sewn on a few buttons here or there in the past, but to make a dress, one that I could actually wear, well, that was an accomplishment. And the process was surprisingly emotional as I began to translate what I was learning to what my characters do. Two of the women in The Funeral Dress work at a shirt factory (based one that really did exist in Dunlap, TN).

The seamstresses in my book are all women, and all are assigned one specific task – sewing a collar, hemming a dress, etc. These women do the same task, day after day, year after year. In fact, a woman who makes collars is simply called a collar maker. A woman who hems a dress is called a bottom hemmer. All of this is rooted in truth, in the true stories of the women who tirelessly worked at the Dunlap Shirt Factory.

The remains of the Dunlap Shirt Factory

It’s so often in the research that my characters become people, so real that there are moments in the day when I forget they are not. I feel their pain and their joy, and it’s that part of the writing process that feels the most vulnerable and the most intimate for me. It is that perfect moment when I loose myself in the story.

Posted February 21, 2011 at 9:54 am · 11 comments · Leave a Comment

THE O.R. WAITING ROOM

For me, as I imagine it is for most writers, it is impossible to separate my own life experiences from the stories I write. That is not to sat that my novels are autobiographical as people often ask. They are not. But my stories do reflect what I’ve lived, how I think, how I see the world.

With that said, I must tell you that my 23-year-old daughter is in the operating room right now having a bilateral nipple-sparing prophylactic mastectomy with reconstruction. Two years she was determined to have a BRCA 1 mutation – in others words – her lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is somewhere between 85 and 90 percent. Well, until today. When I see her next, her lifetime risk will have been reduced to less than 5 percent.

So this really is a day of celebration.

Claudia asked me to update her friends on FB while she is the operating room. I thought I would be too nervous to do that, and yet I have found it oddly comforting to write emails and updates, send texts, and even write a blog post.

I doubt I will write specifically about this experience. Then again, never say never. But I do know that the feelings I have experienced today – pride, fear, anxiety, compassion, tenderness, gratitude, peace – all of these will, at the right time, surface in my work.

For now though, my thoughts are with my baby girl, Claudia, who has been such an advocate for young women who carry the BRCA 1 or 2 mutation. She was born at this Georgetown University hospital 23 years ago this March, and she will leave this hospital in a day or two even more empowered, even more beautiful than ever before.

Love to you sweetie,

Mama

Posted January 11, 2011 at 12:26 pm · 5 comments · Leave a Comment

WHAT’S THAT BOOK ABOUT?

All authors know that you need a two-minute elevator speech for the very frequently asked question, “What’s your book about?”

To tell the truth, I’m still working on the prefect answer for The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove. I’m not sure why it’s been so hard. Maybe I just feel that there’s more to talk about than will neatly fit into a two-minute reply. But every time I’m asked this question, I feel as though I’m back in my high school English class trying to quickly answer my teacher’s plot questions about Master Skylark or The Great Gatsby.

Anyway, I recently spent an evening with the fabulous book blogger, Kathy Roberts, in her South Carolina home. Kathy and I met with her fledgling book club. We sipped margaritas and talked books until well after ten o’clock (OK, that’s late for me!) And at the end of all, Kathy pulled out her Flip camera and made this little video of me talking about The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove. So in case you haven’t heard my two-minute elevator speech, here it is, at least one version of it. Enjoy!

A bedful of bloggers at the SIBA convention back in September in Daytona Beach. Rebecca Schinsky on the left, Heather Figearo in the middle and Kathy is the one on the right!

Posted November 30, 2010 at 6:54 am · 1 comment · Leave a Comment

DAVIS-KIDD CLOSES

Yesterday evening, I was working on my computer when a news bulletin appeared in my email. Joseph-Beth Booksellers is closing. That was it. That was the headline. Another victim of these hard economic times.

Even though I have read several obituaries in the past two years in Shelf Awareness about other wonderful indies forced to close their doors, this is different. This is family.

Davis-Kidd, Nashville, has been my hometown store since I moved back to Nashville four years ago. And they have enthusiastically supported me every step of the way on this publishing journey. I debuted Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen there and released The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove there. The Davis-Kidd staff is professional, creative, knowledgeable, kind-hearted, and they have become friends.

On a deeper level, I am grieving that books seem to have lost their place in our society, that literature no longer seems to be of value, a foundation, like all the other arts, on which we can build a stimulating, enriching, thinking community. Maybe I am blowing things out of proportion. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just too sad today to see things any other way.

Posted November 12, 2010 at 7:49 am · 4 comments · Leave a Comment

SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT: HEADS NORTH??

This past weekend, I traveled north to Boston to visit my daughter, celebrate my husband’s 50th birthday and EAT! Oh my, did I eat – cannolis, seafood, pasta, pizza, thai and on and on and on.

So pretty it was almost hard to eat.

And of course I popped in a few fabulous bookstores like Porter Square Books and Harvard Book Store, family owned and operated since 1932!

Now I don’t know if it was the scrumptious food, the crisp fall air, the clear blue skies, but I got to thinking that maybe when THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE comes out in paperback (date yet to be determined) that I need to climb back in my car and head north. What do you think? Do you think Northern readers would take kindly to a Southern girl like Bezellia? And what are some of your favorite indie stories north of the Mason-Dixon line? Help me out y’all. Tell me what you think. Oh, and it might not be a bad idea to include some of your favorite restaurants. After all, a girl’s gotta eat!

My three daughters having fun at Fenway Park

Posted October 27, 2010 at 8:14 am · 2 comments · Leave a Comment

SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT: PAGE & PALETTE

Page & Palette

Address: 32 South Section Street, Fairhope, AL 36532
Phone: 251-928-5295
Owner: Karin Wolff Wilson
Website: www.pageandpalette.com
Twitter: @PgPalettePirate

Karin Wolff Wilson inherited more than a love of books from her paternal grandmother, she inherited the family business! Page and Palette is, get this, a third-generation-family-owned independent bookstore, founded back in 1968 by Betty Jo Wolff. Is that cool or what!

Page and Palette in Fairhope, Alabama

(Just so you know, Betty Jo was very well regarded in the book industry for years, and a local foundation, the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts, even named a writer-in-residence cottage after her.

Located on the beautiful eastern shore of Mobile Bay, Page & Palette is a Fairhope landmark, now serving the great grandchildren of their original customers. It truly is a gathering point for the community. Karin says it best, “We host book club functions, storytimes for kids and special live music performances. We are one of the first downtown businesses to open each day and definitely the last retail shop to close each night. Besides offering book recommendations from the classics to the latest bestsellers, we point customers to area restaurants, the famous Fairhope Pier, and the Marriott Grand Hotel in nearby Point Clear. We want to be the best example of Southern hospitality!

And they are! I recently found my way to Fairhope and what a treat. I spent a good part of the day snuggled up on one of their comfy chairs, drinking coffee, reading and talking to locals. Believe me, the staff is like family for a road-weary author, and I can’t wait to get back down there again. Of course, an opportunity to run into summertime resident Rick Bragg would be all the prompting needed.

Bragg (or Rick as I like to call him) is not the only big name in publishing that stops by Page & Palette. The store is an author-event-driven bookstore for sure and they’re customers are delighted by the national stature of the writers who include Page & Palette on their book tours. They have hosted winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Caldecott, the Newberry and even an Oprah Book Club author.

But this is one of my favorite stories from Karin: One afternoon in October 2009, some of the staff were in the midst of explaining to some customers the details of the Pat Conroy event scheduled for the following day. They were reciting the list of conditions that the publisher had sent when the program was scheduled. Then, from behind the crowd, the author himself stepped up to the counter and said “We’re going to change the rules”. He signed hundreds of books before the event and then entertained the audience of 300 fans for an hour and fifteen minutes before meeting readers individually to personalize their books and pose for photographs.

“We want to be the “Pat Conroy” of bookstores: hardest working, long lasting & with eclectic characters!” Karin says. And I believe her.

Karin and the amazing staff at Page and Palette

In addition to a deep book inventory, Page and Palette offers art supplies, religious titles, Bibles, greeting cards, calendars, journals, and a fabulous coffee shop “LatteDa” with complimentary WiFi. And the best part, yes it gets better, the entire staff is very supportive of the independent bookstore cause. Karin has served as president of the Southeastern Independent Bookstore Alliance (SIBA) and her publicist and assistant, Emily Bell (Roll Tide Roll!), currently serves on its board of directors.

So head on down to Fairhope and be sure and tell everybody I said hello. (BTW, they’re only closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter!)

Posted October 20, 2010 at 8:28 am · comment · Leave a Comment

SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT: MALAPROP’S BOOKSTORE/CAFE

Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe

Address: 55 Haywood St., Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: 828-254-6734
Owner: Emoke B’Racz
Website: www.malaprops.com
Twitter: @malaprops

Emoke B’Racz says “I wanted to have a place where diversity and the freedom of speech is the ruling divide. Where book sellers were supported as talented human beings and where knowing literature was appreciated and were considered a noble profession.”

She’s nurtured that dream at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina. “The magic of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the architecture of downtown Asheville, and the ability to ‘grow up’ within a city and the community that was struggling to survive was a pure invitation for giving all the energy I had,” says B’Racz. “Finally I arrived home.”

Malaprop’s is, to me, a must-visit booksore. There’s a real energy here, B’Racz and her carefully chosen and highy knowledgeable staff bring in “big name” authors, but also take care of the rest of us. Members of that great staff have become friends of mine – and also met two women at my first reading there who have become such good friends that I keep up with them every time I pass through town!

While B’Racz says Malaprop’s customers are partial to many different kinds of books, including literary fiction, poetry, cultural studies, and current events, the largest (“and most beautiful,” B’Racz notes) section in the store is devoted to Southern culture, the Regional Collection section. “We carry a large and diverse selection of southern fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. The most recent tribute to Southern literature at Malaprop’s was a Read-a-thon celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. 17 regional authors read for four and a half hours to an enthusiastic crowd. It was fantastic!”

A few titles that are perennial favorites are “Serena” by Ron Rash, “Mayhem in Mayberry” by Brian Lee Knopp, “Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger” by Lee Smith (my beloved seventh-grade English teacher!), and”The Girl Who Chased the Moon” by Sarah Addison Allen. Local authors are so important to the store that ten years ago Malaprop’s commissioned a stained-glass work highlighting important Asheville authors: John Ehle, Gail Godwin, Thomas Wolfe, Elizabeth Daniels Squire and Robert Morgan. It’s a beautiful tribute to the interconnectedness of creativity and commerce.

Posted October 15, 2010 at 10:36 am · 37 comments · Leave a Comment

Susan Gregg Gilmore