PAPER GIRLS WEAR PINK

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.

Melissa and the Paper Girls walk for my girls

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.)

Josephine, Alice and Claudia

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.

Paper Girls Wear Pink

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!

Posted July 12, 2011 at 12:49 pm · 2 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

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

AN HONEST READER

There is a special bond between a writer and a reader.  It’s a very intimate relationship bound by words and the power of human expression.

In any deeply personal relationship, people are, I would hope, going to feel safe voicing their opinions.  But if I’m going to be completely honest, which is the point of this blog, after Dairy Queen was published, I was surprised when a reader would email to tell me there was a misspelled word on page 103 or a misplaced comma on page 96.  I appreciated it, but I was surprised.

But I was sad when a reader misinterpreted a passage and thought that I was being racist.  And I was startled when a reader sent a long email questioning the inherent value of my work.  “How did I ever get published in the first place?” she asked.  “Did an editor even read your book?” she wondered. I quickly realized that this was not coming from a terribly disappointed reader but a very frustrated writer.  And after a bit of emailing, I had found another author in her genre who had agreed to help her with her manuscript.

OK that brings us to today. I received a comment from a reader who has decided to no longer subscribe to my blog, and she went on to tell me why.  She felt this was important feedback that I needed to hear even if it was unsolicited and “might not be so comfortable.”

“It’s nothing about your blog writing,” she said, “it’s fine and interesting.  It is fun to watch.  But I cannot take daily doses . . just can’t keep up the pace,” she said.

She thinks I should post no more than 3 times a week.

I would be lying if I said that these kind of comments don’t smart. They do.  But I always think there’s something to be learned from everything.  So I decided to ask you, my readers, if you would prefer that I only write 3 x a week — if it feels burdensome and boring everyday.

But before you make your decision, let me explain why I think daily blogging is valuable.  I do not expect that each and every entry is going to be profound nor do I expect you to read each and every entry — although that would be nice.  But blogging everyday encourages me to write about subjects that I would otherwise ignore, for example, the video posted recently of author Lisa Patton talking about her new book, Whistlin’ Dixie in A Nor’easter. I got more comments from that one entry than I had in two or three days (not to mention some new readers for Lisa.)  Had I been blogging only a few times a week, I’m not sure that post would have happened.  The daily ritual of blogging does, I am convinced, lend itself to unexpected treasures.

My intent when I committed to blogging everyday this year was in part selfish, to develop more blogging discipline, and to share with those of you interested in the writing process a little bit of what the day is like.  I try to keep all posts very short (except for this one) because I know everyone is busy with their own lives.

But let me know what you think — now is the time — yes or no — yay or nay!

Posted January 18, 2010 at 8:45 pm · 10 comments · Leave a Comment

DAY 17/PLOT POINT

Tomorrow is a big day for me.  Actually it’s a big day for one of my characters.  (Remember, this is the book that my agent and I keep exchanging.  I think it’s done. She doesn’t. She’s probably right.)

Anyway, there’s this creepy jerk, and he may just have to die in the morning.  I really don’t know for sure.  You’d think I would. But no.  I rarely do.  A character always shows me the way, even to his own demise.  Seriously, I cannot tell you the times I’ve sat down at my desk and found someone has to go — out of the blue — totally unexpected.

That’s not the case here.  I know something is going down — just not sure what — yet.

So off to bed, maybe in my dreams this character will finally show me the way!

Posted January 17, 2010 at 10:30 pm · comment · Leave a Comment

DAY 16/READERS READERS!

Just returned from an author signing event at the Coffee County Public Library in Manchester, Tennessee.  There were more writers than readers.  Sales were slow.  That happens sometimes.  Heck, I’ve traveled 300 miles to a bookstore to find myself reading to the staff — God love the bookstore staff — they really do know how to love on a lonely author.

But it’s always worth it.  No kidding.  That’s not a line.  Take today.  New Southern author, Lisa Patton, Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter, and I met for the first time.  We live in the same town but had never met.  I had seen her book.  To tell the truth, I had drooled over her cover .  Yes, cover envy.  It’s a sickness.  But despite that, I think the two of us may very well end up being great friends.

I’d like to introduce you to Lisa.  I know you’re gonna love her too!  (And I know her name is Lisa even though I call her Lee!)

A Chat with Author Lisa Patton from Susan Gregg Gilmore on Vimeo.

Posted January 16, 2010 at 4:43 pm · 4 comments · Leave a Comment

DAY 15/TGIF

I’m going to keep this one short and sweet because it’s Friday night and everybody needs a break!  I meant you — not me.

Tomorrow I’m caravaning (not really a verb but you get the idea) with a bunch of other writers to Manchester, TN, (about an hour south of Nashville) to hawk my book at the 3rd annual Coffee County Library Author Signing.

I do this in part because it’s a fundraiser for the library and in part because I am a mid-list author hoping not to be forgotten before my second book comes out in August.

Have a great weekend and go spend some bucks at your favorite indie store!

Posted January 15, 2010 at 6:33 pm · comment · Leave a Comment

DAY 14/GUILT-FREE WRITING

Blogging for me has been like journaling — at least that’s what I told you a couple of days ago.  But here is the truth, I don’t journal.  Never have.  Oh, except for a couple of days when I was 13 and then two or three more when I was 17 — both incidents involved a boy — yes yes – dumping me.

And that’s the point of today’s journal . . . I mean blog!  If you are a writer or someone who wants to write you must free yourself of all the expectations and stereotypes of what it means to be a writer. Take it from me.  I don’t journal. I didn’t major in English. I have never attended a writing workshop.  I don’t wear black turtlenecks and smoke cigarettes.  And I have never written a short story.  Ok, that I want to try.

This is not to say that I haven’t prepared myself for the life of a novelist though. I have worked for newspapers since my freshman year in college and have written professionally most of my adult life.  And I have watched my world very, very carefully.

But the point is this — writing is about just that — writing — there is no one way to tell your story.  You only need to find the way that works for you and then, as I’ve said before and will say again, put your butt in the chair!

Posted January 14, 2010 at 7:37 pm · 3 comments · Leave a Comment

Susan Gregg Gilmore