Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Secret Sense of Wildflower

Speaking of book trailers... Here's one I came across that I think works pretty well. It's for North Carolina author Susan Gabriel's latest novel, The Secret Sense of Wildflower, and features still photographs, quiet background music, and a voice over (I presume, the author). What makes this trailer interesting to me is that it also includes reviews at the end -- this is the first time I've seen that on a book trailer, and I think it helps persuade the viewer that this might be a good book to check out. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The book trailer debate...

There is a lot of discussion right now (especially on Twitter) about whether or not book trailers work. Well, it depends what you mean by "work." Do they help sell books? Do they help raise an awareness of reading? How do you judge a successful book trailer?

In her excellent blog, Catherine, Caffeinated, indy author Catherine Ryan Howard discusses the value of book trailers. She gives two great examples of trailers from author Maria Semple's novel Where'd You Go Bernadatte -- one, a cutesy "this-is-what-the-book-is-about" cartoon that I found so annoying I couldn't finish watching! The other is a spoof, with Ms. Sempel trying out different (bad) pitches to various famous authors and Jeopardy! champions. It is funny, original, and really entertaining! I don't know if I'll buy the book -- I'm still not sure what it is about -- but the trailer definitely made her name stick in my head.

In my opinion, Ms. Sempel's second trailer was extremely successful. Because of it, she's featured on a popular blog, and now I'm mentioning it on my (albeit less well-known) blog, and maybe from this post, word of mouth will take her name and her novel a little farther into the blogosphere... It's gotten people talking, in other words!

But what about writers who don't have the luxury of expensive book trailers with cameo performances by famous actors? I think simple, thoughtful book trailers can also help get the word out. I discovered author Gillian Mawson on Twitter. She's written a nonfiction book called Guernsey Evacuees: The Forgotten Evacuees of the Second World War, soon to be published by The History Press. It has a lovely, evocative cover, and Ms. Mawson recently put out a book trailer on YouTube that has haunting music and sepia photo shots and is very compelling, especially if you're interested in World War II.

The "successful" trailers I've seen have left me with a lasting impression of the author and always a feeling of great optimism and expectation about what's to come in the book industry. And if you can generate excitement about reading, then you are helping all authors. While we may not be able to measure the success of book trailers in actual book sales, I believe that well-made trailers do have a positive impact on individual authors' careers in the long-term. What do you think?

Monday, October 1, 2012

My first "guest post"!

Just wanted to share the news that I have a guest post entitled "Permission to be Southern" on fellow writer Melinda McGuire's blog, "melindamcguirewriters." My essay is about being born in Scotland but growing up Southern and how it's affected my writing!

In her series, "Southern Creatives," Melinda features tons of interviews and essays with Southern writers, editors (like Erin Z. Bass, editor of Deep South Magazine), and all creative types. Check it out today!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Rich Fabric, an anthology of quilting

A quick shout out to fellow writer and blogger (and now editor!) Melinda McGuire, who has just released the paperback version of Rich Fabric: An Anthology. The Symbolism, Culture, and Tradition of Quilting. Melinda hand-picked the contributors to share their memories, photos, and quotations about the culture and history of quilting.

And, even better, all the profits go to support the Twighlight Wish Foundation, a non-profit charity that grants wishes to senior citizens who live below the poverty level.

In December, Melinda will be releasing an ebook version, which will also include music! What a great idea! So, stay tuned for more info... I hope to post an interview/guest post with Melinda in the coming months (if she has time!).

Monday, September 10, 2012

Short story corner...

My brain is a little worn out these days, so I'm posting a short story I wrote several years ago, based on a dream I had about a friend of mine belting out "Moon River" on a rooftop! If you're interested in reading any more of my stories, check out Rocky Road on smashwords.

"Moon River Balustrade"

Bill pushed a mug of beer over to Vera; some of it slopped onto the scratched table.
            “Drink this. You’ll feel better.”
            Vera took the mug and began chugging the beer like it was water in the Mohave Desert. Then she thumped it down and sat there staring straight ahead for several moments, a trail of beer dripping from one side of her mouth and down her chin as though a snail procession had passed across her face.
            “What am I going to do?” She fingered her wedding band and engagement ring, clicking them together like a set of nesting tables. The engagement ring was a glistening diamond with rubies surrounding it like cherries on a plate of meringue. Bill put out a hand.
            “It’s going to be okay. You’ll find something else.” He left his hand there, but she didn’t take it. After a while he brought it back onto his lap.
            “We just bought a boat.” Vera wiped the side of her mouth with her hand. “A bass trawler with room for 10 people. It’s even got a refrigerator.” She started crying again. “And Nathan just made the down payment on the lake house. We were going to move in this weekend.”
            Bill stared at his shoes, $7.99 on special at the Payless across the street from his apartment. One of the laces had snapped and he’d tied a knot to keep it together. The rubber was starting to wear away on one toe where he tapped his foot against the air conditioning vent at work to help keep him awake in the afternoons.
            “Nathan has a good job. You guys’ll be fine.” He tried to sound fatherly, but a lump came up in his throat whenever he said her husband’s name.          
Vera wiped her face with one of the cocktail napkins. Then she reached out her hand, and he put his in it, his heart palpitating. Her hand was warm and a little tough, like she’d worked in the red clay soil. He knew from gardening his small plot in the county that the clay had a way of sucking all of the moisture out of your skin and leaving it dried up like an autumn leaf.
            She only held his hand for a second. “Thanks, Bill. You’re a pal.” Then she let it go, and he felt the warmth where her hand had been, lingering as though a small animal had rested there.
            “Let’s get out of here.” She stood up. “I need some air.”
            Bill threw a $20 bill on the table and followed her, pushing stray chairs out of the way while she weaved between them like a garden snake.
            Outside was warm and humid, and the sun was just beginning to set. Vera hooked her arm through his.
            “Where are we going?”
            Vera sighed and looked around as though seeing Elm Street for the first time. “I’ll show you where we’re going. Come on.”
            She walked fast, leading him like a pet poodle. They reached a side street and she took an abrupt turn, nearly stepping on his foot. Bill started to sweat and wished he’d left his jacket in the car.
            At the parking deck, Vera jerked to a stop, and Bill bumped into her, catching a whiff of her Intrigue perfume; he’d smelled it at the Belk’s counter when he was trying to decide what to get her for her birthday. In the end, he’d picked an expensive pen set and a leather-bound journal. She’d sent him a thank-you card in the mail, signed, “Love Vera and Nathan.”
            Vera pushed open the heavy metal stair well door. It creaked, and Bill reached out to help her, and for a split-second he had his arm around her, all the blood in his body reaching the same spot at once.
            Inside the stairwell it was even hotter, and Bill paused to take off his jacket. Vera was already five steps ahead of him, holding onto the rail, her rings clanking against the metal. She looked upwards at the glass skylight, as though she was a spy in a James Bond movie. They always went to the roof in those movies; Bill never knew why because once up there, the only option was to kill or to jump. Neither seemed a good option to him.
            “Where are we going?” he asked, out of breath. He turned purple when he got too hot, and his bald head stood out like a beacon. He hoped it was dark by the time they got outside again.
            “Just keep going,” Vera yelled, now about 20 steps ahead of him.
            Bill heard another door opening, and when he looked up again, Vera was gone.
            “Vera?” He started to panic, imagining that she had disappeared, and he was really alone. “Vera?” He loosened the top buttons of his shirt. Blue and purple spots started to float in his eyes; his forehead felt cold. He sat down on a step and put his head between his knees.
            “Bill? What are you doing?” She was looking over the railing from the top landing. “Come on up here!”
            It was almost dark on the roof, the last rays of the sunset lingering on the sides of office buildings and in the steel trimmings of signs and antennas. Bill grasped the metal railing someone had thoughtfully stuck around the rooftop. People laughed down below, women who sounded like they were on a night out, perhaps an evening away from the boyfriends and husbands. He felt an ache at the thought of the husbands waiting, curled up one the couch, smiling as the other person came back that night, smelling of smoke and strawberry daiquiris and Coco Chanel, laughing and telling him how some guys had tried to dance with them, but they’d just ignored them and rolled their eyes.
            “Isn’t it beautiful out here?” Vera took a cigarette from her purse and lit up. The smoke swirled around her face like a cloud of mist, and Bill wanted to put his hand through it and dispel it.
            “Yeah, it’s nice. What made you think of this?”
            “I always come up here when I’m stressed.”
            “Oh.” He’d hoped this was her first time, a spur-of-the-moment kind of discovery.
            Vera sighed. “When I was a kid I wanted to be an opera singer.”
            “Really?” Bill wished he smoked, sometimes.
            “When I was about 8 or 9, I used to sing in the bathtub, and I didn’t care who heard me. Actually,” she took another drag, “it never occurred to me that anyone was listening. You know how it is when you’re a kid—the whole world revolves around you.”
            He nodded.
            “So, I was singing in the bathtub one day, just belting out Sesame Street songs and old Jean Kelly tunes that I’d seen on movies with my grandmother; I thought I was really good!”
            They laughed.
            “Then, from nowhere, I hear this voice in the hallway, shouting, ‘What is that awful noise? It sounds like a cat died!’ And I froze, like I’d been shot or something, you know?”
            Bill nodded.
            “Turns out it was my Auntie Delia. She was a piece of work. She wore fox furs with the heads still attached and used to tell me they were alive. I had nightmares about that for years!”
            Bill couldn’t help laughing. “So, what happened then?”
            Vera threw her cigarette over the edge of the roof, and Bill stared after it, hoping no one down below would catch fire.
            “I never sang again. I was so humiliated. It was like the spell had been broken.”
            They stood there, watching the sky turn red and dark, purple shoots streaming through it like Bill’s purple face.
            “That’s a shame,” he said. “You shouldn’t let anyone stop you from--”
            It was then that Vera broke into song. She just opened her mouth, and out came a powerful earthy voice that blanketed everything—the sky, the cars in the street below, and all the thoughts in Bill’s head.
            “Moon River…” she sang, and Bill watched her eyes getting shiny and her face muscles relax, and she looked for a moment like Ingrid Bergman, staring out into the sky with her arms at her sides in a dramatic role.
            After a while, people began to appear below them, hearing her perhaps from the street or from downstairs, getting into their cars and stopping in surprise. A small group had soon gathered, looking up at Vera singing.
            She got to the middle, “Moon river, wider than a mile ...” and the energy seemed to build, and Bill felt it in his chest and stomach, and suddenly someone from the back of the group joined Vera in a small trembly voice, “I'm crossin' you in style some day…” and everyone smiled and seemed to relax. It was like a relief valve in a tire had been loosened.
            Vera finished the song and stood there with her hands clasped in front of her, rather limp but happy looking.
            “That was wonderful,” Bill said. “You can sing any time for me.”
            She looked past him to the crowd, who slowly began to clap, like people becoming conscious. Then, one by one, they walked away, back to their cars, or wherever they’d come from. Vera started to shrink as each person walked away. When the last one had gone, she started crying.
            “I really thought it would make a difference,” she sobbed, holding onto the rail. “Wasn’t that stupid of me, thinking that something as silly as a song would make a difference?”
            Bill put his arms around her and brought her close to him. “It did. It really did.”
            But she was staring out over the rooftops, away from him, looking out at her future, the boat, the lake house, the ring on her finger glinting in the last strands of light that finally dissipated. And they were left in darkness.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

6 unexpected Southern lit. recommendations

Another quickie post, as the past two weeks have been busy -- a friend in hospital, a sick kiddo... Hard to focus during tough times, don't you think?

Quirk Books had an interesting post the other day, "Six Unexpected Southern Literature Recommendations." While some authors weren't really unexpected to me -- come on, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy? Everyone's heard of them, right! Others I was less familiar with -- Jean Toomer, Harry Crews, and Natasha Trethewey. How about you? Please share your "unexpected" Southern favorites!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Roundup of new Southern writers...

Just a quickie post today...

Author and book reviewer Alle Wells has a great roundup of her new Southern favorites! Check out her guest column, "Romancing the South," on Bette Lee Crosby's website.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mixing writing and music -- the way of the future?

If you happen to be near Dalton, Georgia, this Thursday (August 9th), be sure to stop by Chelsea's on Thornton at 5 pm to hear author Kimberly Brock, who wrote The River Witch, and musical act Grits & Soul for a special collaboration connecting Southern fiction and music.

I think it's a great idea to combine music and reading -- both books and songs tell stories, and both capture an audience and transport them to another place. Despite this fact, I've only come across a few authors who've taken advantage of a musical connection to help promote their work.

North Carolina author Lee Smith was working on her historical novel On Agate Hill, when friend and songwriter Alice Gerrard asked her to write the liner notes for a new CD she was working on. Gerrard's song "Agate Hill" so inspired Smith that the two teamed up for readings -- Smith read, and Gerrard and friends accompanied with music. The readings, in turn, inspired Gerrard's CD, The Road To Agate Hill. Listen to an interview with Lee on The State of Things.

Another NC author, Clyde Edgerton, often combines his love of music and writing. Several years ago, I went to hear him read from Lunch at the Piccadilly, where he played his guitar and sang funny songs that complemented the book. It was a great experience, the audience loved it, and the place was packed! Now, there's even a musical comedy inspired by his book called Lunch at the  Piccadilly, composed by Mike Craver and directed by Steve Umberger.

Songs, CDs, plays... What a great way to build a diverse reading audience! If you know of any other writer-music duos, please let share in the comments section!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Southern coal: take a trip back in time

When I was about 20, I had my first introduction to coal mining in the South. I took a camping trip with my parents along the Shenandoah Valley, to Luray Caverns and Big Meadows Campground. On the way back to North Carolina, we stopped to bike a trail that lead to the "ghost town" of Thurmond, WV, a former coal mining town. The town, of course, was deserted, apart from one tiny souvenir shop where I bought a train made out of coal for my boyfriend. There was rumor of a murder that had taken place in the old hotel -- something about money lost over gambling -- and as we climbed the hill to where the few remaining residents lived, the atmostphere grew eerier, and I imagined the ghosts of the town (and the 7 or so people still living there) watching us. We got out of there pretty quickly!

Needless to say, my impressions of coal mining are not pleasant -- a necessary, dirty, and dangerous job for people who have few options. While lots of nonfiction books explore coal mining, I had a hard time finding many Southern fiction books about it. Susan Tekulve of Spartanburg, SC, caught my attention -- she recently won the 2012 S.C. First Novel Competition (sponsored by the S.C. Arts Commission and Hub ity Press of Spartanburg) for her novel The Nipper. Her book follows the lives of a coal mining Italian immigrant family as they struggle to survive in a tiny Virginia town.

Gin Phillips, author of The Well and the Mine, tells a fictional tale of a real-life Alabama coal-mining town, Carbon Hill, in 1931. The novel begins with a shocking act of violence, as a baby is thrown into a family well. Publisher's Weekly describes the story: "A tight-knit miner's family struggles against poverty and racism in Phillips's evocative first novel, set in Depression-era Alabama."

Hazard, a novel by Gardiner Harris describes a mine disaster in Hazard, KY, and the repercussions that follow. A reviewer in The Washington Post writes that Harris used to work in Hazard, Ky., as the Eastern Kentucky bureau chief for the Louisville Courier-Journal. "His prize-winning reporting there was credited with helping pass laws that strengthened the state's mine-safety rules." The reviewer adds, "Harris understands the fatalism of miners who know their jobs can kill them."

Read more here:

Monday, July 23, 2012

Join the ebook/indy controversy!

There are some great discussions going on right now (on Twitter, blogs) about the state of ebooks and indie publishing. Join in and add your two cents -- are ebooks priced too low? If so, who does this hurt? Or is anything fair in the race to gain readership?

Indy author Catherine Ryan Howard has a great post (and follow-up discussion in comments), "Low E-book Pricing: The Compensation Problem," where she discusses a recent spat at the Harrogate Crime Festival. Writes Howard on her blog, Catherine, Caffeinated:

"During a panel discussion called Wanted for Murder: The E-book (for anyone surprised at what happened, shouldn’t that title have been your first clue?) bestselling crime writers Mark Billingham and Laura Lippman, seated in the audience, got into a bit of a heated debate with the panelists, one of whom was mega-selling cheap e-book author Stephen Leather."

Blogger Pam McIlroy tweeted about an article in The Guardian that discussed Sony's decision to offer a range of 20p titles in its new Reader Store.

And journalist and fiction writer Scott Bury tweeted and blogged about independent writers deserving more respect in the publishing world. From his blog, Written Words:

"We need to start talking about independent writers, those who control the publishing function themselves, in the same we we do about independent filmmakers and independent musicians. "Indie" group Arcade Fire, after all, won a Grammy."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Southern writing contests...

Here are a few writing contests, set in the South, but not necessarily just for Southern writers!

Black Warrior Review, based out of Tuscaloosa, AL, is a great journal, full of artwork, poetry, and prose. Three prizes of $1,000 each (plus publication) are given each year for a single poem, short story, and a work of nonfiction. The $15 entry fee includes a subscription to the journal. Deadline is September 1, 2012.

Gival Press, based out of Arlington, VA, offers a prize of $1,000 and publication on the press's website for a short story. Entry fee is $25, and the deadline is August 8th.

North Carolina Humanities Council offers the Linda Flowers Literary Award each year for a work of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction that reflects the people and culture of NC. The winner receives $500, publication in North Carolina Conversations, and a weeklong residency at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanties. There is no entry fee, and the deadline is August 15.

Snake Nation Press, based out of Valdosta, GA, is offering the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry and the Serena McDonald Kennedy award for fiction. Winners receive $1,000 and publication. The entry fee is $25, and the deadline is August 31.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Glossary of Southernisms

The good folks at are offering a "Glossary of Quaint Southernisms." I've lived in the South (NC) for more than 20 years, but not having been born here, I still don't feel like an expert on the dialect! Some of these I recognize, like "fixin" and "catty-corner" and "conniption" (one of my favorites!), but others I've never heard of ("chinchy"?).

I like what they say in their intro., as I get mad when people judge others unfairly, based on an accent:

"Your accent has nothing at all to do with intelligence or knowledge of the rules of grammar. It is simply a regional dialect and dialects are equally grammatical; they are simply slight variations in the grammar of a given language that characterize the various regions where that language is spoken."

Monday, June 18, 2012

What does it mean to be Southern?

Southern writer Melinda McGuire blogs about what it means to be a writer in the South, and on June 12 she featured a great guest post from Andi Kay, a fellow blogger and book reviewer. Andi's blog is called Anakalian Whims.

Andi talks about her favorite Southern authors as she was growing up and gives one of the best descriptions of why we love Southern literature that I've read in a long time:

"[...] we’re really into our fried foods too. And family, and tradition, and comfort, and joy. And pie, can’t forget the pie. But we’re a protective and territorial bunch, proud of our roots, but happy to share.

"That’s why reading about it is so wonderful. We like feeling at home, and we like feeling invited, and a good deal of us are nosy as hell and just want to pick the brain of someone else. So what better addresses all of that than reading the work of a southern writer?"

Monday, June 11, 2012

More new Southern summer reads!

Back by popular demand (okay I just made that up!), here's another roundup of the latest Southern fiction to hit the book shelves...

Heading Out to Wonderful is Virgina native Robert Goolrick's second novel and is set in 1948. When a mysterious stranger comes back from the War and settles down in the village of Brownsburg, VA, all seems well until he sets his sights on teenage bride Sylvan Glass.

Some call South Carolina native Dorothea Benton Frank the "Queen of Southern Fiction," and whether you agree or not, she sure is prolific! Porch Lights is her 13th novel (according to her website) and tells the story of Jackie and her 10-year-old son as they return to Jackie's childhood home on Sullivan Island to recover from a family tragedy.

Husband and wife Rick and Sandra Dee Richardson teamed up to write Southern Secrets: Sins of the Past, a novel based on the real history of the last slaves brought to America. Rick hails from Alabama, and his great-great grandmother was actually on the final slave ship Clotilda, which docked in Mobile Bay.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Tayari Jones in Chapel Hill!

Atlanta native Tayari Jones talked about the complicated dynamics of extended families at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill last night. Her latest and third novel, Silver Sparrow, is told from the perspectives of two daughters with the same father – the catch is that Chaurisse is legitimate, and Dana is the product of the father’s secret marriage. Although Jones doesn’t have the same background as the girls – she has half-sisters by legal means – she found ways to identify with both of them though a kind of “emotional autobiography,” using feelings and memories from her own life and family relationships.

 Everyone knows what it feels like not to belong, like Dana, who must keep her family life a secret. “I try to find out where I have a version of that myself,” Jones said.

 She started her novel with the feeling that she wanted to write a book about sisters, and the idea of bigamy sprouted from that. As we’ve seen in cases like John Edwards’, secret families are more common that we think, Jones said, but are taboo because children are involved. Readers will sometimes come up to Jones after a reading and say, “I’m a silver sparrow,” meaning that they’re a child from a secret marriage.

Jones has already started her fourth novel, which will likely be about a man wrongfully accused of a crime. When he is suddenly freed from prison, he has to pick up the pieces of his relationship with his wife – another complex topic! “What is our obligation to people who get out of prison?” Jones asked.

She’s written more than 100 pages so far, so she’s pretty confident the novel will “take”! Jones doesn’t outline her plot beforehand: “I like to feel breathless and stressed out when I write,” she said, because that’s the way she believes people like to read, too, with a feeling of anticipation and what’s going to happen next?

 As well as giving readings throughout the country, Jones is an Associate Professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University and is spending the 2011-12 academic year at Harvard University as a Radcliffe Institute Fellow, researching her fourth novel. Check out this dynamic writer!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New indie bookstore near Manteo, NC

I was so excited to read this morning that a new bookstore is opening in Duck, North Carolina, a tiny town in the Outer Banks! The store is called Duck's Cottage Downtown Books and features a hand-picked selection of books, as well as tea and coffee and toys for the kids. Read all about it in the Outer Banks Sentinal.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The science behind fiction

If you're a crime or mystery writer, you may want to check out Marianne Wheelaghan's blog, where she gives a great overview of a talk by forensic anthropologist Sue Black. Attending talks by people in the police/forensics field is an excellent way to do background research for a novel. I went to a similar kind of talk a few months ago --  a Crime Scene Investigator from the Durham Police Department discussed taking photographs at crime scenes. I learned a lot about how the police secure a crime scene, document all angles of the area, and manage to take photographes in the pitch black to capture as much information as possible. After the talk, I realized I hadn't thought through the murder scene of my novel thoroughly -- it was a real wake-up call!

I don't know how up to date it is, but WritersWrite offers some good links for authors needing to research the police and other justice/crime info. And if any local groups in your area feature guest speakers from the police department, it's definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Southern mysterioso...

Hello, Everyone! I have another batch of new Southern fiction for your perusal, all dealing with  mystery in some way. Nothing is off limits -- we even have a psychic waitress who sees vampires!

A Grown-up Kind of Pretty is Georgia resident Joshilyn Jackson's fifth novel, a mystery about a family of young mothers. Here's what it says on her website about this novel: "When a long-hidden grave is unearthed in the backyard, headstrong young Mosey Slocumb is determined to investigate. What she learns could cost her family everything…"

Mississippi Cotton is Paul Yarbrough's first novel. He was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, and his novel describes rural Mississippi in the 1950’s, as told by 10-year-old Jake Conner. Although the novel begins with a murder, the tale is more about the history of the Southern people and their controversial relationship with the Civil War.
Deadlocked is the 12th in Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series and follows psychic, small-town Southern waitress Sookie Stackhouse as she works to solve a murder case. Harris is a native of the Mississippi River Delta area and has been publishing novels since 1981. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

"Southern Sin" essay contest

The magazine Creative Nonfiction, in association with the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference & Workshop, is seeking new essays for a special "Southern Sin" issue and contest.

Deadline: July 31, 2012

Creative Nonfiction (CNF) and the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference & Workshop are looking for essays that capture the South in all its steamy sinfulness--whether you're skipping church to watch football, coveting your neighbor's Real Housewife of Atlanta, or just drinking an unholy amount of sweet tea. Confess your own wrongdoings, gossip about your neighbor's depravity, or tell us about your personal connection to a famous Southerner headed down the broad road to Hell. Whether the sin you discuss is deadly or just something that would make your mama blush we want to hear about it in an essay that is at least partially narrative--employing scenes, descriptions, etc.

Your essay can channel William Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor, Alice Walker or Rick Bragg; it can be serious, humorous, or somewhere in between, but all essays must tell true stories, and must incorporate both sin and the South in some way.

Usually the wages of sin is death, but this time we're making an exception. The selected essays will be published in Creative Nonfiction #47, and CNF and Oxford will be awarding $5000 for Best Essay.

Creative Nonfiction #48 will be launched at the 2013 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference & Workshop (March 2013).

To submit, visit:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Remembering Doris Betts

I was shocked to read this morning that North Carolina author Doris Betts passed away on Saturday. She was 79 and had lung cancer. The last book I read of hers was Souls Raised from the Dead, her 7th novel and winner of the Southern Book Award in 1995. I really enjoyed that and Beasts of the Southern Wild, her 1998 collection of short stories that contains her award-winning story, "The Ugliest Pilgrim."

Here's an article that talks a little about her life, but I'm sure much more will be published about her in the days and weeks to come.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New biography on John Kennedy Toole

Even if you've never read A Confederacy of Dunces, you may have heard the unusual back story behind its publication... The author, John Kennedy Toole, committed suicide in 1969 at the age of 31. His mother, Thelma Toole, convinced of her son's genius, struggled for years to get his manuscript published. It was, finally, in 1980 with the help of fellow Southern author Walker Percy, and a year later won the Pulitzer Prize.

Now, Cory Mac-Lauchlin has written a biography describing the life of New Orleans author Toole entitled Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces. Kevin Allman has written a great review of the biography. Check it out, and if you haven't yet read A Confederacy of Dunces, you should -- it's bizarre, Southern Gothic, grotesque, and inspiring (more so because of the back story) in a weird way.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Interviewing people for fun and profit!

Well, sort of... I'm teaching a webinar about how to interview sources for all kinds of writing -- magazine, newsletter, technical, research... Learn the basics about what sorts of questions to ask and what to do if someone is rambling on about his/her pet parakeet, etc... Here are the details:

Title: "Interviewing Sources: A Beginner's Guide for All Writers"
Date: April 4, 2012, 9 a.m. - 9:45 a.m.
Cost: $25 (via Paypal)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Read an ebook week!!

It's "Read an ebook Week," and you can get tons of discounted and free books until March 10! Check out:

I'm offering my book of short stories "Rocky Road" for free this week only. Just enter coupon code REW25 at checkout.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Short and sweet book reviews

The lovely Chapters Bookshop in Galax, VA, offers quick reviews of popular books on its website. These snippet reviews are a great way to discover new books for your reading list. Here's an example from the website:

Hit Man, by Lawrence Block (publisher HarperTorch $7.99)

Alright, I know that this is not a new book. But Mr. Block is new to me. I have just discovered his books, and thankfully, he has lots! The series I am reading right now begins with Hit Man. The story revolves around Keller, a man hired, mostly by the mafia, to take out informants, and other ne’er do wells. But sometimes he makes a mistake. The writing is wonderful, with descriptions of life in New York City and other places rich from a different angle. His philosopy of life is fascinating. If you like mystery/thrillers, youshould try Lawrence Block. (Reviewed by Theresa)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What's out??

Here's another roundup of recent Southern books being published. We've got an eclectic mix, as usual!

Wiley Cash's first novel A Land More Kind Than Home is set in the mountains of North Carolina. Here's what the Library Journal has to say:
"The River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following is a secretive place, with newspapers taped over the windows so you can’t see in, and the minister, Carson Chambliss, is often seen on a Sunday morning carrying cages made of wood and chicken-wire into the building. Still, the neighbors pay little attention until an autistic child becomes the victim of a special healing service, and the local sheriff launches an investigation."
Mississippi author Jonathan Odell sets his second novel The Healing during plantation-era slavery slave-era. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the book "transcends any cliches of the genre with its captivating, at times almost lyrical, prose; its firm grasp of history; vivid scenes; and vital, fully realized people, particularly the slaves with their many shades of color and modes of survival — none more so than Polly Shine and Granada."
 New Orleans resident Michael Jeffrey Lee recently published Something In My Eye, a collection of short stories that won the 2010 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. Says Sarabande Books, who published Lee's collection, Lee's stories are "bizarre and smart and stilted, like dystopic fables told by a redneck Samuel Beckett. Outcasts hunker under bridges, or hole up in bars, waiting for the hurricane to hit."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Meet Southern stars for lunch

If you happen to live in the Chapel Hill, NC, area or are going to be there on February 19-20, you will want to check out the "Writers for Readers Book and Author Luncheon." It's going to be at the fancy Carolina Inn, and all the Southern big guns will be there: Lee Smith, Daniel Wallace (of Big Fish fame), Kevin Wilson (The Family Fang),  Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Natasha Trethewey, and The New York Times best seller, Robert Goolrick.

You can buy tickets from The Orange County Literacy Council website.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Southern books to check out...

Here's a random list of Southern-style books I've found while rambling online... I haven't read any of them, but they all look interesting, and I'm going to try to check them out this year.

Flannery O'Connor: The Cartoons. Before she became an author, O'Connor wanted to be a cartoonist. Here's an anthology of her cartoons for high school and college publications.

Preachers and misfits, prophets, and thieves: The minister in Southern fiction by G. Lee Ramsey, Jr. An exploration of the weird world of religious zealots in Southern fiction such as Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood.

Southern Fried Women by Pamela King Cable. Ten short stories featuring women of the "real" South; these ain't your typical Southern Belles!

In Love with the Enemy by Brigett Scott. This is the first novel from Scott, who is also an assistant professor at Nicholls State University in Louisiana. Her book features a "small-town Southern girl" who looks to be a regular "Jane Bond"!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

NC author attacks Southern "staleness"

The Greensboro News & Record did a great write-up of Kat Meads's new novel When the Dust Finally Settles a few weeks ago. The novel is set in Northeastern North Carolina, just below the Virginia line, in 1968 amid desegregation. According to blogger Charles Wheeler:

The novel attacks staleness. Southern fiction often gets mired in mud holes of stereotypes. This story splashes through them like an open-throttled John Deere. A deputy sheriff is kind, understanding, reasonable and humane. A black high school basketball star is tentative and unsure of himself. A small community welcomes change, though not with wide open arms. It’s not easy. Change never is.

What do you think about Southern stereotypes in fiction? What's the difference between a stereotype and an artistic "rendering" of a region? The Southern authors I admire, like Lee Smith and Tim McLaurin, manage to capture the essence of the South without compromising their characters or the story.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mag writing course still has openings!

Need some extra cash? Want to see your name in print -- or online, as the case may be these days? Learn about magazine writing with my online class at starting January 16. It's ten weeks, for 150 pounds (about $232), which isn't bad for 10 weeks. At the end of the course, we put together a mini magazine, showcasing your writing, and post it on the website for the world to see!

Marianne Wheelaghan (right) has been running her online school for 10 years and also features classes in short story and novel writing. Check it out!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Anthology seeks Southern fiction

Q&W Publishers, a small press out of Grayson, GA, is looking for submissions for its Anthology on the "Old, Weird South." They pay $50 a pop, which is better than many, which pay zilch! Here's the description from their website:

The American South is a haunted place — full of ghost stories, native legends, persistent devils & angels, souls sold at the crossroads, and moon-eyed maidens living in the Okefenokee. The South’s best writers — Faulkner, O’Connor, McCullers — all keep this sense of the otherworldly in their fiction.
In this spirit, Q & W Publishers is looking for submissions for an anthology of short fiction and non-fiction that explores the fantastic, eerie, and bizarre side of the American South.