We’re headed to my favorite place on earth Sunday—Seagrove Beach, Florida—for our (almost) annual family beach vacation. I’m so excited that all of our kids and grands will be there this year. Bill and I took a year off from this annual tradition last year, for our “bucket list” trip to Paris. But we did make it down for Thanksgiving last year (just the two of us). So, the last time we were there with any of our kids was in May of 2015, when our daughter Beth, her husband Kevin, and their three-year-old daughter Gabby joined us. Beth was pregnant with Izzy at the time. Here are some great pictures from that trip. So, this year there will be 7 adults and 4 kids, ages 7 ½, 6 ½, 5, and 20 months—Izzy’s first beach trip! Can’t wait! I always think about John Masefield’s poem, “Sea Fever” when I’m getting ready for the beach:
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by; And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I only remember one beach trip with my family when I was a little girl. Most of our family vacations involved following my dad around golf courses and watching him play in (and often win) tournaments. Swimming in the pools at the various country clubs where he played was fun, but it wasn’t the ocean.
When our boys were 3 (Jason) and 6 (Jon) we took them to Destin for the first time. (Beth wasn’t with us yet.) And then later we took Jason and Beth to Hilton Head, South Carolina one summer when Jon was in school at St. Andrews-Sewanee. And we took all three kids to Kiawa once. But it wasn’t until November of 2006 that we went back to Florida with our grown son, Jon, to celebrate his graduation from flight school. This was our first trip to Seagrove Beach, Florida, which has become our favorite destination. I documented some of those earlier vacations in this post from 2010. We’ve been back with our kids and grands numerous times, and I spent three one-month writing retreats alone there, in 2011, 2012, and 2013. (It’s where I gave birth to Cherry Bomb, my novel that’s coming out in August.)
Our daughter Beth was married at Seagrove Beach in May of 2011. Next week we’ll be staying at a house right next door to the wedding venue. Lots of great memories….
I’ll close with a few photos. I might not be blogging from the beach next week… so please come back in May!
It’s so much fun editing an anthology. I had a great time last year editing A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press). And now I’m in the throes of editing Southern Writers On Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018) and the fun never ends! Especially when working with another wonderful university press. So here’s where we are:
A few months ago I invited the contributors and received 26 wonderful essays and a foreword. I worked with each author on edits, grouped the essays into sections by themes, found quotes to head up each section, wrote an introduction, acknowledgements, and table of contents, and sent the manuscript off to the press in March.
Next the press sent the manuscript to “outside readers” for “peer review.” The readers they selected for this work were given specific questions to answer as they reviewed the manuscript. Here are some examples (with excerpts from the readers’ responses):
Does the manuscript make a significant contribution to this field of study and/or the general market for this type of book?
Yes, I believe the manuscript does make a significant contribution to the field of southern literature…. I think this book will appeal to academics, particularly those teaching creative writing, southern and contemporary literature, and it will also appeal to up-and-coming writers who are looking for experienced direction, inspiration, support, and a reason to believe in themselves and keep putting their own words and stories on paper!
Yes! Just what I was hoping for! Here’s another one:
Please evaluate the author’s style of writing and organization of material:
All the essays in this collection are strong and well-written and I enjoyed reading every one of them…. The styles vary, but I consider this variety a huge plus offering would-be writers an opportunity to experience different writing styles and voices, and hopefully find a voice, story, and approach to writing that speaks a little louder to the reader and his/her own unique experience.
Again, I am so happy with these readers’ responses! One reader made very specific suggestions as to the organization of the essays, and even did line editing throughout the entire manuscript, which I’m using now as I make revisions and corrections before returning the manuscript to the press for their editorial work to begin. Here’s another one:
To your knowledge, is the information in this proposal available in published form elsewhere?
I’m not aware of any such book. Some individual southern (and non-southern) authors have published books that talk about their own writing, but there’s not to my knowledge a collection of essays such as this. I find that pretty amazing!
I found it amazing, too, when I researched the topic before starting work on this book. Another reader said,
… young writers are most interested in learning from writers who aren’t necessarily big names, but who are successful in publishing now… as opposed to writers like Faulkner, Welty, Tennessee Williams, etc. This book is a solid response to that need.
There are a total of ten questions on the readers’ questionnaires, and I found most of their observations and suggestions extremely helpful. I’m even strongly considering changing the title from So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing, to simply Southern Writers on Writing. The original (longer) title was inspired by the TV show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” but not everyone will get that, and as one reader pointed out, some people might think it’s the writers in the book thumbing their noses at the readers, which isn’t the case at all! If you’re reading this and have a different idea for a title, please let me know!
Of course the proof of the pudding was that all readers strongly recommend that the book be published. I did a peer review for another university press a year or so ago, and was sad to have to say “no” to this question in response to the manuscript I reviewed, knowing that the author would be disappointed to be turned down by the press. But that’s what peer review is for.
So now you know more about what goes on “behind the scenes” when a university press publishes a book. The peer review process is an important step in protecting the integrity of the press, and in helping make the books they publish excellent. I’m so thankful to be on this journey! Stay tuned….
I never read crime thrillers, although I do watch Law & Order SVU regularly. But when I met Jackie Warren Tatum at one of my book signings in Jackson, Mississippi, recently, I told her I had bought her debut novel Unspeakable Things, and it was next up in my reading queue. Although this isn’t a regular genre for me, I found it compelling. Dark. Graphic. Page-turning. Good character development. All the elements of a really good read. There are several good reviews (just Google it) online, so I decided to do a short Q&A with Jackie instead of posting another review. My questions—and Jackie’s answers—are aimed at information that both readers and writers will appreciate. I just turned 66, in the year my first novel (and two nonfiction books) are being published, so I am greatly impressed with Jackie’s first novel at age 74. Kudos to a fellow Mississippian, Jackie! And thanks for the interview.
P&P: I read that you did some writing for Jackson Free Press prior to writing Unspeakable Things, your debut novel. Have you always wanted to write a novel?
Jackie: I have always had an interest in expressing myself on paper. I remember writing poems in high school. Years ago, as a high school English and radio and television journalism teacher, words were a part of my life. Then, as a lawyer, I continued my relationship with words, both written and spoken. After I retired as a Special Assistant Attorney General, I took a writing course with the editor of the Jackson Free Press. That led to my freelancing and consciously considering myself a writer.
I don’t know that I have ALWAYS wanted to write a novel, but over the years, prior to Unspeakable Things, I had begun several that never grew legs.
P&P: Did you draw from your experiences as an attorney in writing the story for the novel, and in developing the characters? If not, where did your ideas come from?
Jackie: Unspeakable Things is pure fiction. I am 74 years old and I have had a variety of life experiences, including widowhood and divorce and being the first female member of the Tippah County MS Bar in1980 and conducting a rural law practice there. Once I began Unspeakable Things, the characters found me. They often decided in which direction we would go and they dragged me along behind them, at times, kicking and screaming.
P&P: Why did you choose to self publish? Did you try traditional publishing first–i.e. querying agents and/or independent presses? Were you pleased with the process? What was good or bad about it?
Jackie: I researched for a year before selecting how to publish. There are really three ways to publish, as I understand it: 1. self publish by literally doing all the work yourself or contracting out the respective tasks, e.g., the art work/graphics/cover design/layout/etc. or 2. traditional publishing or 3. using some form of a self publishing service company. I was too inexperienced for 1., too old for 2. I chose 3. and shopped, in part, based on my research, and, in part, based on my scrutinizing the contract terms and conditions with the publishers.
P&P: I know that you lost your husband when you were only 25 years old. How much did that loss inform the relationship between Renee and Samone in the book? Was writing the book cathartic in any way?
Jackie: Unspeakable Things is pure fiction, but I could write with complete integrity about loss, having experienced the death of my high school sweetheart husband, suddenly, at such a young age. I dipped into the deep reservoir of experience and emotions inside me. Writing Unspeakable Things was a healing experience.
P&P: Any plans for writing another novel?
Jackie: I have begun another novel. I am also getting encouragement to write a sequel to Unspeakable Things. The Lord willing, I will keep writing.
In the midst of a busy and wonderful book tour, I’ve been invited to contribute articles to two wonderful magazines.
“Tangles and Plaques” will appear in the May issue of DeSoto Magazine. Just in time for Mother’s Day, my short piece will be part Polaroid, part cautionary tale, about the changing relationship between my mother and me during the last eight years of her life. She died on May 22, 2016 of Alzheimer’s Disease. I’m so thankful to my friend Karen Ott Mayer, DeSoto’s editor, for this opportunity. You can subscribe to the magazine, read it online, or pick up a copy at many places in Mississippi and surrounding areas, like Memphis.
A second article, “Four Book Deals in One Year: A Journey in Independent Publishing” will appear in the September issue of Southern Writers: The Author’s Magazine. I discovered the magazine when my friend (and fellow Dogwood Press author) John Floyd was featured in an interview in their January/February 2017 issue.
Another short piece (750 words), this one details my journey through writing and finding publishers for four books within one year. (Three are being published in 2017 and one in 2018.) I share my struggles querying literary agents and finally working with one for many months before parting ways due to our different visions for the book. There’s lots of “how to” in this short piece, including researching and querying academic and independent presses, working with editors on revisions, marketing, and more. Again, many thanks to Susan Reichert, editor-in-chief of Southern Writers, for this opportunity. A great magazine for writers and readers alike, you can subscribe to the print, online, and digital formats here.
So, it’s Holy Friday and I’ve already been to three services during Holy Week at St. John Orthodox Church here in Memphis. I’ll be at two more today, two tomorrow, and one on Sunday. It’s a beautiful marathon, where we walk through Christ’s passion, and celebrate His resurrection. Thanks, always, for reading. Have a beautiful Pascha/Easter weekend (I’m so glad the East and West are celebrating on the same date this year) and I’ll be back on Monday.
When I was in Jackson, Mississippi, on Monday (my husband had a medical meeting there) I stopped in at Lemuria Books (where I had a reading/signing last Thursday) to visit with bookstore owner John Evans. We discussed this summer’s Mississippi Book Festival and other literary and publishing topics. As I was speaking with one of the booksellers who works there, I discovered these two books at the counter: Joan Didion’s South and West, in which she brings notes from a 1970s road trip journal she took with her husband through Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama into the present cultural and political milieu; and Anne Lamott’s latest book, Allelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. I love Didion and look forward to diving into her essays, especially since they are about the South, but it was the subtitle of Lamott’s book that drew me in immediately: “Rediscovering Mercy.”
As an Orthodox Christian, I am half way through Holy Week, which follows our forty-day spiritual journey known as Great Lent. It’s a “school of repentance” we enter as we walk through Christ’s death and resurrection, but it’s also a time to rejoice in His great MERCY.
This past Sunday our pastor, Father Phillip Rogers, talked about mercy in his homily. I love that both he and our young assistant pastor, Father Alex Mackoul, have kept such a positive, upbeat focus during Lent, rather than overwhelming us with too-heavy burdens for our already difficult ascetic struggles. Instead of reminding us of our shortcomings (don’t we all feel the weight of them without others pointing them out?) Father Phillip reminds us of God’s mercy. He did this with me in a very personal way when he heard my confession a couple of weeks ago. And then he encouraged all of us to discover this afresh in his homily by challenging us to read Psalm 117 every day during Holy Week. He said it would change us. I believed him.
My husband and I love this Psalm, especially verse 24, which we say to each other as greeting and response first thing every morning (a tradition we learned from my parents): “This is the day the Lord has made; Let us greatly rejoice, and be glad therein.” But I hadn’t read the entire Psalm (29 verses) all at once in quite some time. We hear much of it during the services in the Orthodox Church, so the verses were familiar as my husband and I read them together on Monday, and I read them again with my morning prayers yesterday and today. Here are a few verses:
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
For His mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Israel say that He is good,
For His mercy endures forever….
The Lord is my strength and my song,
And He became my salvation.
The sound of exceeding joy and salvation
Is in the tents of the righteous;
The right hand of the Lord exalted me;
The right hand of the Lord worked its power….
Appoint a feast for yourselves, decked
Even to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will thanks to You;
You are my God, and I shall exalt you….
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
For His mercy endures forever.
*We were celebrating the Feast of Palm Sunday, raising our palm branches as we processed outside the church remembering Christ’s victorious entry into Jerusalem.
At this time in our country, in our world, we need God’s mercy more than ever. How wonderful to rediscover it this week, both in Anne Lamott’s book, and in Psalm 117. As Lamott says:
I’m not sure I even recognize the ever-presence of mercy anymore, the divine and the human; the messy, crippled, transforming, heartbreaking, lovely, devastating presence of mercy. But I have come to believe that I am starving to death for it, and my world is, too.
But what does Lamott mean when she writes of mercy?
Mercy is radical kindness. Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable. Mercy brings us to the miracle of apology, given and accepted, to unashamed humility when we have erred or forgotten…. The idea of accepting life as it presents itself and doing goodness anyway…. Yes, because in the words of Candi Staton’s great gospel song, “hallelujah anyway.” Hallelujah that in spite of it all, there is love, there is singing, nature, laughing, mercy.
I am so thankful to King David (who wrote Psalm 117), Anne Lamott, and Father Phillip Rogers for helping me rediscover mercy during this beautiful Holy Week. Tonight I will experience another taste of that mercy at the sacrament of Holy Unction at St. John Orthodox Church. When the holy oil is placed on our heads and hands, the priest will ask God to heal the disorders of our souls and bodies. That healing—which each of us will experience in a personal way, according to our own physical, mental, and spiritual brokenness—will indeed be an outpouring of God’s mercy. I hope I will go forth from this sacrament with the familiar words, “Lord, have mercy,” on my lips and in my heart.