I’ve asked some of my favorite authors and bloggers to write about their favorite book club moments. During the course of the next four months, I’ll be sharing these with you. (Hope you had a chance to read Kelly O’Connor McNees‘ posting from last Friday!)
Of course, it’s really not fair to ask of others something I’m not willing to do myself. Then again, I could talk on and on about my favorite book club moments. After traveling 30,000 miles visiting with readers, you bet there’s not just one!
But something special happened last week and I wanted to share this with you first.
I met Melissa Hagen Klug at the Books on the Nightstand Retreat in Vermont last April, an amazing weekend in and of itself and much more about that later. It deserves an entire post of its own.
Melissa loves Southern lit. OK, I liked her from the start. And she’s the Director of Marketing for Glatfelter a company that makes the paper for the books we read. What a perfect girl!
Last week I was traveling and did not notice this Facebook post right away. Needless to say, I was so touched when I saw that she and her wonderful co-workers (many of whom came to Vermont!) had participated in the AVON Walk for Breast Cancer in San Francisco. Their team was aptly called the Paper Girls Wear Pink, and they had named my daughters as one of the reasons they walked. I cried.
My oldest daughter, Claudia, inherited a mutated BRCA 1 gene and underwent a prophylactic mastectomy with reconstruction in January. Claudia looks and feels great, and I am one very proud mama! Claudia has been a role model for many women of all ages, particularly her younger sisters. (for more about Claudia’s journey, check out her blog.)
We don’t know yet if my younger two daughters carry the same mutation. If they do, they will have their sister to look to for strength. And they will know that they are supported and loved by people like Melissa and her Paper Girl friends.
Melissa and all the Paper Girls Wear Pink and many others like them are the true blessings in our lives since we lost my husband’s mother to ovarian cancer and first learned of this genetic mutation. And it is through words, through books, that Melissa and I found one another and a very special friendship began.
I am convinced more than ever that books do have the power to heal.
And please visit the Paper Girls Wear Pink web page if you’d like to learn more about their walk and the opportunity to give!
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.
Last night I introduced Bezellia Grove to the Nashville community at my hometown bookstore, Davis-Kidd. It was like the best family reunion . . . ever! Better than that . . . it was like THIS IS YOUR LIFE Susan Gregg Gilmore.
Treva Horne was there, the woman who held my mother’s hand the day I was born. Tricia Saperstein (and her precious mom) and Betsy Bass, playmates from the first grade, were there. Babs Young, Mary Addison Hackett, Jennifer Herbert, Ann Hunt, Olivia Miller, Currin Mifflin, all buddies from the sixth and seventh grades were there, too.
That’s not all. Karen and Rick Miller were sitting on the front row. Heck, this book was born at their dinner table! Book club friends, editor friends, mothers-of-my-daughter’s-friends friends were all there. And amazingly talented writer friends like J.T. Ellison whose next mystery thriller, The Immortals, will be released October 1, River Jordan whose next book, The Miracle of Mercy Land will be released on September 7th, Lisa Patton (Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’Easter), and poet Lisa Dordal, my roommate at the Sewanee Writers Conference, were all at the bookstore cheering me on. And my Davis-Kidd family, wow! OK, I know they had to be there to run the store, but I love this staff that has supported me on this book-writing journey from day one.
Simply put, I was so touched. I just wanted to stand there and take it all in, memorize each and every smiling face.
No doubt having a book published is a big, wonderful deal, but having your friends surrounding you on such a special evening is absolutely incredible. Thank you for the giving me that moment.
For a couple of amazing weeks in July, I attended the Sewanee Writers Conference. I took a a few pages of my third novel, very much a work in progress, along with me. Jill McCorkle and Tony Earley were my workshop leaders, and I cannot even begin to thank them both for their insight and advice. The Funeral Dress will no doubt be a better book for having been there.
Days and nights were filled with readings and craft lectures, workshops, and yes, cocktail parties and one very dark mothing expedition where I saw more bats than moths. But the greatest discovery, for me, was poetry.
The gods must have known what they were doing when they assigned my roommate – a poet – a poet who thankfully woke up every morning before 6 am just like I did. First, Lisa opened my eyes (usually after a strong cup of coffee) to the emotional, heartfelt, human poetry of Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Claudia Emerson. Then she patiently taught me a little about meter and narrative form. But more than anything else, she taught me to look at my own work, my own fiction, with the eyes of a poet.
As a journalist, I always thought I used words sparingly, appropriately. I’ve spent hours staring at the computer searching for just the right word – the word that conveys the right emotion, that carries the right rhythm. But now I was suddenly paying attention to the movement and message of each and every word on the page – thinking about the best, most powerful, most economical way to describe a character, a scene, a moment with more determination that I ever had. When you are writing with few words, you must use them as wisely and as powerfully as you can.
I will never be a poet, but I found myself reveling in its beauty. And I found myself appreciating its instructive nature for a fiction writer. I will write poems someday, for no one but myself. But that will be a gift in and of itself.
One of the best parts of being a writer is meeting other writers. And I’ve decided that you need to meet them too! I hesitate to say that every Friday or even every third Monday of every other month, I am going to feature a guest author. (Sticking to a schedule as you have learned is not my strongest gift.)
But with that said, today is the first of hopefully many to come, and I hope you enjoy meeting nationally syndicated humor columnist and best-selling author, Celia Rivenbark, as much as I did. We sat on a panel together at the South Carolina Book Festival back in February. And I can honestly say that this woman is funny, funny, funny.
I asked Celia three simple questions and here are her answers.
If you had to compare yourself to one character in literature who would that be?
I wanted to come up with something noble sounding, but I keep coming back to Nancy Drew. And not just because she was a blonde with a convertible “roadster.” She relied on her gal pals to get her out of scrapes, as I do, and she required a good steady fellow in her life. My husband Ned Nickerson all grown up. Like Nancy, I have a curious mind, love solving little mysteries, adore getting into everybody’s else’s private business and believe that good must always triumph in the end. I’ve read all the Nancy Drew books and it is with grace disappointment that I realize my own daughter prefers vampires and teen-clique books. Sigh.
I knew I liked this woman. I quote Nancy Drew in The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove. (Have you noticed the way I keep working the title of my new book into every blog post these days?)
Back to Celia.
Will you see a movie before you read the book? And what food item do you typically buy at the movie theater?
Sure I’ll see a movie before I read a book. Although, that does make it a tad less likely that I’ll get around to reading the book. I kinda hate candy so I’m more of a popcorn girl, none of that fake butter or cheese powder on it. Oh, and I won’t eat it until the opening credits start to roll unless I’m absolutely starving.
Tell us one things about your life as a best-selling author we would be surprised to know.
I didn’t get a cleaning woman until I was 52 years old (last year). She comes twice a month and it has changed my whole life. Why I didn’t I do this sooner? Dave Barry never has to Pledge the sideboard, now, does he? If you wanna be big time, you gotta act the part.
Check out Celia’s newest book, You Can’t Drink All Day If You Don’t Start in the Morning.
I spent this past weekend in Columbia, South Carolina. Temperatures were in the high 50s, sun was shining, and I was holed up in the city’s convention center with more than 4,000 book-loving, book-reading, book-writing people who had chosen to attend the 2010 South Carolina Book Festival.
Yes, it’s fun to rub shoulders with the likes of Ron Rash and Jill McCorkle, Robert Hicks and the darling Lee Brothers. And often that was all it was — literally rubbing my shoulder against theirs as I passed them in a crowded hallway.
I met some wonderful writers like South Carolina novelist and master gardener Mindy Friddle, New York Times best-selling author Karen White, writer and humor columnist Celia Rivenbark who reminded of the expression “just a half bubble off plumb” and Nina Bruhns who writes romance thrillers and definitely has me thinking of today’s romance genre very, very differently.
I sat on an extremely well-attended panel with Celia and Nina, sold out of books, ate too much food, danced a little and came home dog-tired.
But the best part of all was that I spent time with incredibly passionate, voracious readers that inspired me to sit down at my desk this morning and tell another story.
I know I have broken my commitment to blog everyday but sometimes life happens. And that’s what I’ve been doing lately, tending to life. But I’m back in the saddle, umm, chair and writing and blogging and tweeting, etc.
I need to briefly return to the subject of letters, one more time. Now you may be figuring out that this will be a reoccurring theme. But after my last post about letters, I received this email from writer, blogger and letter writer, Stephanie Garrett, and wanted to share it with you.
Wow! Every time the voices of doubt try to gain a foothold in my brain, someone writes or post something that spurs me forward. While I am by no means an accomplished writer, there are thoughts and stories within me that are screaming for release. Because of being overcome by tax returns and financial aid submissions I have not blogged in the past couple of days. Just as I’m wondering “does it really matter if I post today?” I find your posts about letters!
Letter writing is one of the most rewarding tasks I do each week, both in sending and receiving. I actually blogged about letters on February 2nd.
I started writing letters on a regular basis after reading “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” Regular written correspondence with my husband’s 82 year old aunt has brought us even closer in a relationship that is more mother/daughter than aunt/niece-in-law. She no longer cares to receive by-monthly phone calls, she is waiting for her letter. I average two a week to her. She returns two a month to me. Should I fall behind in my schedule to her, I am quickly called to task by her son who has picked up how important this communication is for her.
Thank you for the book suggestions and may we never forget that there is always someone in cyber-space who needs to read what we have to say.
Since my recent blog post where I openly confessed my love for The Woman of Independent Means, I’ve learned that I’m not the only one still in love with letters and letter writing and books written in letter form! I’ve even begun to wonder if all of us letter lovers should start some sort of secret club. Maybe we promise to write one letter a month? Maybe to one another? Oh dear, I guess we all know how long that would last.
But at least I can share some of the other titles written in epistolary form that you have shared with me. The Griffin & Sabine Trilogy, Helene Hanff’s, 84 Charing Cross Road, and Alice’s Tulips by Sandra Dallas. (Wasn’t that the name of a song from the 1920s?)
Anyway, the weather is still cold here in Nashville, but I have spent the last few days in the house — painting and cleaning. We are moving to Chattanooga this summer, and we list our house tomorrow. All has gone well except for the unfortunate accident which is the name now given to the spilling of a gallon of taupe paint all over on an old but loved rug. Of course, I was covered in paint too. No doubt my neighbors heard me screaming two doors down!
I do hope your week has been warm and accident free. Please take care and stay in touch.
The other day I was doing some painting around the house – this time walls — when I came across one of my favorite books of all time, A Woman of Independent Means. This book was written more than 30 years ago, but it is one that I go back to time and time again. It’s a beautiful collection of letters from one woman, spanning most of her adult life.
I am very drawn to books written in letter or journal form. The Diary of Anne Frank was one of the first books I truly fell in love with — and most recently The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen originally included some twenty pages of letters back and forth from Catherine Grace and Martha Ann. My editor felt that the voice was too similar in the sisters’ letters and suggested I return those belonging to Catherine Grace to first-person narrative.
Lately, I’ve been asking myself why I am so drawn to this form of writing, and I think the answer is very simple. His name was Nolan Nuckles. He was a family friend, and when I was a very little girl, he was already well into his eighties. Oh, but Mr. Nuckles would write me the most wonderful letters, full of information and stories and scribed with a penmanship that was nothing short of artistic. I remember feeling so special that he had taken the time to write me. I saved each and every one of of his letters for years, and unfortunately in one of my many moves, they disappeared.
But that’s just it. In a letter, we all have the opportunity to become story teller — to share with our reader a part of our life that has been worthy of writing down. And receiving that letter is, in my opinion, an honor — especially now in the age of emails and texting and tweeting when writing by hand seems like a laborious task.
I, too, love a good 140-keystroke message message and sometimes forget to stop and take the time to write a friend a letter. (Although a few years ago I wrote my 7th-grade teacher, Lee Smith, a very long letter inside an exam blue book — only seemed appropriate!) But as my head spins with ideas for a fourth and fifth book, don’t be surprised if it’s a collection of letters — each one a special moment shared between a writer and her reader.
I had never experienced writer’s block until September 2008 — ever never. For two months, I stared at the same 15 pages with absolutely no clue how to move forward. Finally, I got up from my desk one morning and went to the kitchen to make some tea. While I was standing there, I made a big decision. The 15 pages that I had spent two months writing and then two more months staring at were going in the trash. Like Jill McCorkle once said, sometimes you have to get off the horse. You’ve beaten it till it’s dead, and you just have to get off.
So I sat back down at my desk, tea in hand, and for some reason checked Facebook, and there I read a comment by Josephine Humphreys. I don’t even remember the words now. They don’t really matter. But one thought led to another and then to another. And before I knew it, the block had lifted like fog off a mountain.
With that in mind, I want to share with you this beautifully written essay by another Tennessee writer, Susan Cushman. Susan is an iconographer, artist and writer. Her words about the spirituality of the creative process really resonate with me. I don’t know what caused my block to dissipate. But if the words seem to flow from a greater power then it only would make sense that emotions like anger and hurt and resentment and frustration block a writer’s ability to tap into or connect with that source. At least for me, this feels true.