THE SOUTHERN BYWAYS BOOKSTORE PROJECT

My bags are packed.  My maps are highlighted.  And my car is gassed and ready to roll.  That’s right, I’m hitting the road again. Tomorrow, I’ll inaugurate my book tour of the Southern byways right here in Nashville, Tennessee, with the release of my second novel, “The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove.”  And the very next day, I’m off and running – Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Pennsylvania (yes, I know it’s above the Mason-Dixon Line) – here I come!

Without a doubt, one of the great and unexpected joys of being published two years ago was meeting YOU – all the readers, booksellers, and bloggers – who enjoyed “Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen.”  I drove more than 18,000 miles in total introducing myself to the reading public and I believe every truck-stop employee along I-81.  But every mile was worth it, well, except for maybe about 75 of those miles in Mississippi when I’m certain I barely out ran a tornado.

After that experience, I couldn’t help but want to give a little something back to the independent booksellers down South.  So, while I’m traipsing across the Southeast and farther afield for my book tour, I’m gonna be starting a special series of blog posts profiling bookstores in Dixie.  Some I’ll be visiting in person. Others I’ve only gotten a taste of through photos, fans and alike.

I’m christening this special series of posts The Southern Byways Bookstore Project.

In the end, we’re all part of one big, wonderful book-loving family – and this is just a small way for me to celebrate being kin.  Can’t wait for the “family reunion,” hitting the road to spend some time with the people who love books as much as I do.

Posted August 16, 2010 at 8:54 am · 2 comments · Leave a Comment

TAKING ON THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT??

Someone asked me recently if I had any trepidation about taking on the Civil Rights Movement in THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE?  The question was inevitable.  But I wasn’t really prepared to answer it.

Relationships were undeniably complicated in the 1960s American South, where society remained neatly ordered by class, status, and skin color.  There’s no doubt about that.  And Bezellia definitely pushed those once well-defined boundaries.  There’s no doubt about that either.

But quite truthfully, I never felt I was “taking on” anything, particularly something of such importance as the Civil Rights Movement.  I was only wanting to tell the story of a young girl who was desperately trying to be loved and love other people and struggling to find ways to do that with some compassion and integrity.

Was it coincidence that I was first asked this question only days after leaving Montgomery, Alabama, where the Civil Rights Movement took some very important first steps?  Probably not. I’m not a big believer in coincidence.

But again, am I “taking on” the Civil Rights Movement?  No.  My job, my responsibility, as a writer is a simple one, to bridge the gap between what I have observed and experienced and what I can put on paper. With that said, I would never assume what it meant or means to be African-American in the South.  But I can honestly look at the culture in which I was raised and share that imperfect world with others.

Bezellia is not an activist or a hero, far from it.  She only tries to be more heroic than those who stumbled before her.

Posted April 29, 2010 at 2:53 pm · 5 comments · Leave a Comment

NEW SHOES AND NYC

OK, what I’m about to share with you sounds very exciting.  And it was.  But bear in mind, this is not normal living for me.

A couple of weeks ago, my sister and her husband send me a plane ticket and an invitation to come to New York City for two short but wonderful days.  We will do, my sister promises, anything I want.  So we head into NYC first thing Friday morning. We meet my agent, Barbara Braun, at a hip but cozy little restaurant near Greenwich Village called Danal around 10:30 am. We eat scrambled eggs with spinach and Manchego cheese and chat about everything from the recently received galleys of The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove to the third book, The Funeral Dress, still very much underway. We talk about the new shoes I want to shop for and the moo doo (yes, cow shit) that Barbara and her hubby will be spreading on their garden in the days to come. We share stories about our children and thoughts about the state of the publishing industry.

My agent, Barbara Braun, and me leaving Danal.

And when we finally leave the restaurant, it is well after 1:00 pm. We hug goodbye and then my sister and I run in and out of every boutique on Fifth Avenue.  And, at last, with a new pair of silver flats on my feet, we jump in a taxi and head up to Random House to say a quick hello. Of course, when I step into the lobby, I feel my knees buckle a bit.  It is simple but grand all at the same time. And some of the greatest, most important literary works are shelved in thick glass cases lining the walls to my left and right. As a writer, I admire them, am inspired by them and very much humbled by them.

We leave Random House and head to a swank but casual restaurant in the theater district.  We have a martini and talk about the day.  My adorable niece joins us, and Kelsey Grammer walks in and sits down at a table nearby.  He looks good and tan and I wonder if he’d mind if I said hello.  I have another martini instead.

The theater tickets are waiting for us at will call, my sister reminds me.  So we pay our tab and head a few blocks east to the The Black Box Theatre at The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre.  We’re there to see Good ‘Ol Girls, the new musical based on the writings of Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle.  My sister has bought the best seats in the house, she tells me.  And she’s right.  The theater is small, intimate, and we are on the front row. I was three feet from the stage and I felt that the actors were in my house performing just for me.

Good 'Ol Girls will run until April 12th.

After the performance, we walk to our car, pose for a quick pic in Times Square and then leave New York and the day behind.

Somewhere near the Newark airport, we hit the biggest pothole EVER, blow a tire and damage two others.  But even still, it was a PERFECT day!

Thank you Hall and Tom.

Love,

Susan

My sister, Hall, and her daughter, Hannah, celebrate the day with me.

Posted April 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm · 8 comments · Leave a Comment

A DINNER PARTY

The galleys of The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove arrived yesterday morning.  I had hoped to hug the FedEx man, but he dropped the box and ran before I had time to properly thank him. I had wondered if the second time around would be less exciting, but it wasn’t.  Not at all.  In fact, I have to say it was just as thrilling holding this almost-official book in my hand as it had been when the Dairy Queen galleys arrived more than two years ago now.

And for some reason, all day yesterday I kept thinking about the birth of this book, and the on-going balancing act I strike between writing and living.  It’s very easy to settle into a routine of sitting behind my desk and writing about the world and not taking the time to go out and be a part of it.

When I was writing Dairy Queen, I started working two days a week in a small gift shop in San Marino, California.  It kept me part of the real world  and even dealing with the very occasional rude customer was a welcome experience.

When I moved to Nashville, I immediately started volunteering in an inner-city school, again, to be a part of the world — to hear things, see things, know things, I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced sitting at my desk looking out the window.

And my dear sweet Bezellia was born at a dinner party.  I still remember what was on the menu from the jasmine rice to the Chilean seabass.  (You will hear more about this later!) The woman across from me introduced herself as Zee.  I told her that was an interesting name.  She replied, “Well, if you think that’s something, my name is Bezellia!.”

“That is something,” I admitted.

“Well, if you think that’s something, I’m fifth-generation Bezellia.”

“That is definitely something!” I told her.

But I knew at that very moment that Bezellia was more than an interesting name — she’d be a girl that that would take me on an exciting and memorable journey.

Posted March 30, 2010 at 8:19 am · 6 comments · Leave a Comment

THE BLURB

For the past couple of weeks, I have been collecting blurbs for The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove.  It’s a bit like a treasure hunt really. You approach an author you know and respect and ask if he/she would be willing to read your book and write a glowing (definitely glowing!) statement about it that your publishing house can then proudly display on the back of the jacket cover.

Hopefully, if someone is contemplating whether to buy my book or the one next to it on the shelf, these wonderful blurbs will convince them to buy MINE!  MINE!  MINE!

I am really excited about the people who have agreed to read my book but at the same time I am incredibly nervous — feeling very much the same way I did right before Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen was released — this sudden realization that people are actually going to read the book you spent two or three years writing and then freely offer up their opinion.

For now, I’m keeping the blurb-givers a secret.  Hmm.  Maybe if you can guess three of them correctly, I’ll name a character in my next book after you.  Good luck . . . and more to follow!

Posted March 4, 2010 at 8:54 pm · 3 comments · Leave a Comment

DAY 20/PEEK INSIDE

Picture 4Until Dairy Queen was published, I honestly never thought much about the interior design of a book.  But it’s as much an art as writing one.  And I wanted to give you a sneak peek inside THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE.

Theses pages are the creation of Random House designer Lynne Amft.

Picture 3

Posted January 20, 2010 at 4:25 pm · 4 comments · Leave a Comment

THE YEAR OF THE MID-LIST AUTHOR

Good morning and welcome fellow readers and writers to 2010.

This time last year, I promised to be a better blogger.  And like most New Year’s resolutions, my efforts were short-lived.  Too often, I just felt like I didn’t have anything new to say and hated to throw more noise into cyberspace.

But the one thing I can offer you this year is a daily and HONEST peek into a writer’s life — starting today.

It’s Friday, and even though it’s a holiday, I’m up pretty early – 7:30 ish.  Tried to coax my husband to linger in bed but that ploy didn’t work.  Just as well, I really have a lot to do, no time to waste.

First, I’m going to put the final touches on the first 100 pages of my third novel, THE FUNERAL DRESS.  A year and a half ago, my editor told me that I could submit two chapters and an outline for her consideration.

“But I don’t write outlines,” I said.  “I don’t know where the story is going,” I explained.  She smiled and replied, “That’s fine.  Give me 100 pages instead.”

Seemed like a good idea at the time!  And now 17 months later, I think I may actually have those 100 pages ready to send to my agent for her final review.  I’m very fortunate that my agent is an excellent editor. On the other hand, I sent her 80 pages about two months ago, and she had a lot to say about them . . . and none of it was very nice.  Painful but true.  That’s okay.  You must have a thick skin in this biz.  And now I really feel these pages sing.  I’ll keep you posted.

I also need to work on the copyedited manuscript for THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE, to be released on August 17th!  The copyedited ms arrived a few days before Christmas and is due back on my editor’s desk on January 6th.  I’m about half way through that.  Anyway, you have to make your changes in colored pencil. So if anybody knows of a really good brand of colored pencil that writes firmly and clearly, please pass it on.

And finally, in between work and watching football, I will be baking 50 or so small pound cakes to be mailed to booksellers from California to North Carolina as early as Monday.  Booksellers will be ordering their summer inventory as early as mid-January so this is a marketing campaign for BEZELLIA which seemed liked a great idea a month ago.  Now that I have pounds of butter, sugar and flour sitting on my kitchen counter not so sure.  But I’ll fill you on that tomorrow.

Have a great New Year’s Day everyone!

Posted January 1, 2010 at 8:50 am · 8 comments · Leave a Comment

Susan Gregg Gilmore