Writing on Wednesday: A Trip to Small Town America

Drifing coverThat’s what Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump, says it feels like to read Niles Reddick’s new novel, Drifting Too Far From the Shore:

Readers will come to love feisty Charlotte “Muddy” Rewis who, despite the bad news in the world, triumphs by making a difference in her own way. Chock full of humor, Drifting Too Far From the Shore is a beautiful story that makes you feel like you have been transported back to small town America.

I agree. And I agreed to read and review the book, which was sent to me by the director of Summertime Publications earlier this summer

I love the main character’s voice: 70-something “Muddy” reflects on the latest news of the day—everything from abused boys at a school in Florida to tornadoes, Jonestown, and 9/11. Reddick places Muddy in the position of learning about, and often acting on, serious events, but without losing her sense of humor, a tricky balance. And the reader never loses sight of Muddy’s point of view, and her strong Christian conservative values. I think my mother, who grew up in Mississippi in the 1930s and ‘40s and lived there until her death at age eighty-eight this past May, would have really enjoyed this book. One of her favorite authors was the Mississippi writer, Willie Morris, whom Reddick must have read.

Reddick’s tone also reminds me a bit of Jan Karon in her Mitford series, also set in a small town, and with a touch of mystery and romance amongst the older set. Karon places her colorful cast of characters in North Carolina, while Reddick chooses Georgia as the setting for his stories, but the South itself often appears as an additional character in these types of books. Setting—and sense of place—are everything in the Southern novel.

You can read a sample of Drifting Too Far From the Shore here, in Southern Reader.

Niles and I “met” online a few years ago when we both participated in “A Good Blog is Hard To Find”—a Southern writers blog featuring over fifty authors. Here’s a sample post of his from 2012: “Sweet Music Man.” (And not to toot my own horn, but here’s a post I did for A Good Blog back in 2010 that relates to my review of Niles’ book: “The Crossroads of Circumstance: Setting in Southern Literature.”)

Niles Reddick

Niles Reddick

I’ll close with a bit more information about the author:

Niles Reddick’s collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities was a finalist for an Eppie award, his novel Lead Me Home was a national finalist for a ForeWord Award, a finalist in the Georgia Author of the Year award in the fiction category, and a nominee for an IPPY award. His work has appeared in anthologies Southern Voices in Every Direction and Unusual Circumstances and has been featured in many journals including “The Arkansas Review: a Journal of Delta Studies,” “Southern Reader,” “Like the Dew,” “The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature,” “The Pomanok Review,” “Corner Club Press,” “Slice of Life,” “Deep South Review,” “The Red Dirt Review,” “Faircloth Review,” “New Southerner,” and many others. He works for the University of Memphis at Lambuth in Jackson, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife Michelle, two children, Audrey and Nicholas.

You can purchase Drifting Too Far From the Shore at your local independent bookstore (please do!). Sorry I didn’t get this review out in July, when there was a book giveaway on Goodreads (913 people entered, and the contest was over July 31) but it’s in paperback so it won’t bust your budget. Enjoy!

Writing on Wednesday: My Interview on Pamela Cable Blog

Pamela-King-CableLast week I was interviewed on Pamela Cable’s blog. You can read it here:


Pamela and I met at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville in 2012 and instantly hit it off. We’ve stayed in touch through Facebook, and I was thrilled when she asked me to write a blurb for her soon-to-be-released novel, The Sanctum. (Watch for a review here soon.) She is also the author of Televenge and Southern Fried Women. Here’s the blurb I wrote for The Sanctum:

Pamela Cable has crafted a mystical coming of age story with The Sanctum that reminds one of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. Set just north of Kidd’s story, in the mountains of North Carolina, but with similar trappings—a young protagonist escapes an abusive upbringing and finds herself in a surprising Native American setting where family secrets are revealed and a lifetime of suffering is avenged. Cable’s Neeley also takes the reader back to Harper Lee’s “Scout” in To Kill a Mockingbird. Beautiful prose dotted with colorful dialogue and panoramic scenery enriches this page-turning Southern mystery.

Writing on Wednesday: Buy a Short Story and Keep the Lights On!

WalkingI received a message today from author Renea Winchester:

Today is release-day for my short story, “Walking in the Rain: A Short Story About a Sacred Place.” I have written this story to raise money for a small business, Bare Bulb Coffee.

Bare Bulb is the heartbeat of the community and hosts author readings, craft sessions, group meetings, as well as being an overall awesome place.

Join me in supporting Bare Bulb Coffee (in Kathleen, Georgia.) Proceeds from the sale of Renea’s e-story will go to keeping the lights on in this charming business. I’ve already purchased a copy for myself and can’t wait to read it!



CLICK HERE to purchase “Walking in the Rain” and help keep the lights on at Bare Bulb Coffee.

Writing on Wednesday: Katrina Mississippi—Book Launch in Gulfport July 24!

Katrina coverI’m excited about the launch of Katrina Mississippi: Voices From Ground Zero, (Triton/Nautilus Press, 2015) by my friend NancyKay Wessman. Can you believe it’s been almost 10 years since Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf coast in August of 2005? And while others (including Mississippi’s governor, Haley Barbour, with whom Wessman will be speaking at Milsaps College’s lecture series on September 15, “Katrina 10 Years Later”) have books out about Katrina, Wessman’s brings a new perspective to the event.

The book includes individual stories from first responders and critically important volunteers in Mississippi as well as the accounts of state and federal governments.

NancyKayNancyKay Wessman is a public health communications and public relations expert who writes, edits, reads and tells stories. As a nationally known and respected PR director, she helped create and lead organizations that attracted other public health communicators.  

Check out the schedule for events on Wessman’s website, here.

And if you’re near the Gulf Coast this Friday night, come to the Gulfport Galleria of Fine Art at 1300 24th Avenue from 5-7:30 p.m. to meet the author, get a signed copy of the book, and enjoy some informed conversations and free wine. Oh, and I’ll be there, along with Neil White, author of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts and Director of Triton/Nautilus Press, and other friends from Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama, all eager to raise our glasses to NancyKay and get our hands on a signed copy of the book!



Writing on Wednesday: What the Cool Kids are Reading This Summer

a-condition-of-freedom-bookcoverThe dog days of summer are here. Racial tensions are as hot as a July afternoon in the South. The Braves are playing the Brewers this afternoon… thankfully the game is in Milwaukee, where it will be 76° and not in Atlanta, where folks expect a high of 90° today. Me? I’m pretty much house-bound and thankful for air conditioning that works this time of the year.

Need a great mid-summer read that celebrates America’s favorite pastime and helps heal the racial divide at the same time? Joe Formichella—prize-winning author of two novels, Waffle House Rules and The Wreck of the Twilight Limited, three books of nonfiction, and editor of The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul—has recently republished one of his nonfiction books (formerly titled Here’s To You Jackie Robinson) with a new title of Joe’s choosing: A Condition of Freedom. An emotionally charged story of Jesse Norwood and his African American team, the Mohawks, in the segregated South of the 1950s. Here’s what a couple of celebrated authors have to say about the book:

There are deep, social, philosophical reasons to love Joe Formichella’s story of the Mohawks, and of a place where the very sand seemed to grow baseball men … I think books on baseball should let you feel the sun on your skin, no matter what color it is. This one does that. —Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of All Over but the Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man

Written with the intensity and narrative tension of a great novel, this story of how the hopes and dreams of a small group of African-American boys and their legendary coach Jesse Norwood mirrors the Great American Dream itself is strong stuff. A terrific read and a powerful, unforgettable book!  —William Cobb, author of A Walk Through Fire

Susan Joe CouchWhether you need a beach read or a couch read, this one won’t disappoint. You can purchase it from River’s Edge Media (CLICK HERE) or a local independent bookstore (CLICK HERE)… or if you must, you can get it from Amazon.

All the cool kids are reading A Condition of Freedom this summer. Be cool.

(Left: Me and Joe being cool down at Waterhole Branch, outside Fairhope, Alabama, in February of 2013, where I participated in a “shoe burnin’” at a bonfire under the stars and the live oak trees, heavy with hanging moss. We told stories and tossed shoes into the fire. It was cool.)

Writing on Wednesday: Evening Body

I love the cover. The photograph reveals the author's arm.

I love the cover. The photograph reveals the author’s arm.

My friend Karissa Knox Sorrell has a new chapbook—Evening Body—coming out from Finishing Line Press soon. I was honored with a sneak preview, and just as I was choosing my favorite poem from the collection, Karissa unknowingly sent me this link to the same poem, which was originally published at Silver Birch Press. It’s called “Chrysalis.”
Several things strike me about Karissa’s work. The first is how sensual it is. I can see, feel, smell and hear the images she captures in verse. My second impression is the strong emotions she pulls from the reader as she opens her heart on the page, as she does so beautifully in “Chrysalis,” where the reader joins her as she is waiting “to feel… to shout… to hope… to birth….”

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image24790131Karissa is hosting a giveaway contest at her blog for anyone who pre-orders Evening Body. If you pre-order a copy, you will be in the running to win a Booklover’s Gift Pack! The Gift Pack includes:

A copy of Thirst by Mary Oliver (poetry)

A copy of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (fiction)

A copy of Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans (memoir)

A $5 Starbucks gift card.

The only thing you have to do to enter your name in the drawing is let Karissa know you pre-ordered Evening Body (comment on her blog, email, Facebook or Twitter). The winner will be announced on August 1st. Find more info about the giveaway over at Karissa’s blog.  

Click here to order the chapbook Evening Body from Finishing Line Press. 

At the 2012 Southern Festival of Books in Nashville.

At the 2012 Southern Festival of Books in Nashville.

Karissa and I were Facebook friends before we finally met in person at the 2012 Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. Hers is one of a very few blogs which I read on a regular basis, and I’m thankful to call her my friend. I know you’ll enjoy her chapbook… and GOOD LUCK winning the Booklover’s Gift Pack!

Writing on Wednesday: Kindle is Watching You (and Counting Your Pages)

KDPbannerMost of you probably saw Anita Singh’s article in yesterday’s The Telegraph (UK) or other articles on the subject, or at least some posts about it on Facebook:

 “Amazon to pay Kindle authors only for pages read”

There are so many things wrong with this that I hardly know where to begin. First—in case you don’t click on the link and read the article—the gist of it is that authors who self-publish with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select will be paid  based on the number of pages read rather than the number of books downloaded.

Book-machines-before-Kindle-Holloway-Reading-Stand-picture-1If warning lights aren’t going off in your head right now you must be taking a noonday nap to escape the heat. My first reaction was, “How do they know how many pages I’ve read?” The whole Big Brother thing just keeps getting creepier. And how does that affect those of us who like to read more than one book at a time? When you stop reading one and don’t pick it up back for several days, does the Kindle-counter think you gave up on the book?

But beyond that, the obvious arguments are being batted about all over social media today, this one being a favorite:

So, at a restaurant I should only pay for the food I eat, not the food I order?

There are endless applications to this argument:

Should the price of clothes be dependent on the number of times we wear them?

Should the price of a CD be determined by how often we listen to it?

Should the mortgage (or rent) on our living spaces be defined by how many hours a day we spend there?

Book-machines-before-Kindle-Holloway-Reading-Stand-picture-5-540x348The new system begins on July 1. I wonder how it will affect Kindle users. I don’t have any self-published books on my Kindle, so it won’t affect my reading. (I actually haven’t read a book on my Kindle in many months.)

“Advances” in the world of technology always bring new challenges. This one will be interesting to watch.

Writing on Wednesday: Christmas Stories

red-stocking-with-stories-2-with-ornamentsI’ve never tried to write a Christmas story. Unless you count the children’s plays I wrote for our church many years ago.  Maybe it’s because my memories of Christmas Past aren’t really all that interesting—neither poignant nor humorous. I suppose I could write fictional Christmas stories, but I’ve just never been drawn to do so. Instead I enjoy reading Christmas stories in journals and magazines. Good ones, that is.

Like this one in Sunday’s Parade: “The Best Christmas Ever” by Connie Schultz. As I read it I found myself thinking, “That could be ME!” I’m sure many women of my generation had the same response, which is part of what makes this such a great essay—its universal appeal.

“Christmas Giving” in Country Magazine (online) reminds us all of the big impact small gifts can make—during the Depression or any time.

Christmas Magazine (also online) has lots of famous but also lesser-known Christmas stories. A couple of my favorites are: “A Halfway Decent Thank-You Note” by Tom Panarese. And there are famous (fictional) stories here, like “The Fir Tree” by Hans Christian Anderson, if you’re looking for something to read to your children.

And Southern authors Pat Conroy and Rick Bragg both have pieces in the December issue of Southern Living.

511KwjXC3TL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Yesterday I was in Oxford (Mississippi) with my friend Daphne. We enjoyed lunch at Ajax, shopping on the square, hanging out in Square Books, and ending the day at the upstairs bar at City Grocery where you’ll always find writers or interesting locals. Somewhere during our day I picked up a copy of Desoto Magazine, which is edited by my friend Karen Ott Mayer. Amongst its local and regional treasures was an article about a book illustrated by Wyatt Waters and edited by Judy Tucker and Charline McCord. Christmas Stories from Mississippi was published by the University of Mississippi Press in 2001, but somehow I missed this collection of 17 essays and stories by such authors as Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Willie Morris, Barry Hannah, Ellen Gilchrist, Elizabeth Spencer, Carolyn Haines and others.

Chirstmas-storytelling-text-2So maybe I’ll try my hand at writing a Christmas essay or story some day. If you’re interested in combining writing with arts and crafts—or if you think your children might be—try these “Christmas Story Starters.” I found them at a creative blog called “Imagination Soup,” through this image on Pinterest.

Meanwhile I’m enjoying the Christmas stories that sometimes come inside Christmas cards in the form of family “Christmas letters” and the ones I discover in the season’s flurry of magazines. Don’t let the holidays go by without reading (or writing) a good tale!


Writing on Wednesday: Peer Review—The Importance of Beta Readers

why_cant_a_woman_write_the_great_american_novelI spent a few hours last night with some of the smartest writers I know. We meet regularly to critique each other’s manuscripts. Sometimes it’s a complete essay or short story. Sometimes it’s a chapter or two of a book. Always the writing knocks my socks off. I am honored to be in the company of these men and women. To be called a peer.

Because that’s really what we’re doing when we critique manuscripts written by our fellow writers—it’s peer review. Maybe it’s not scientific like the many articles my husband (a physician) reviews for various medical journals. But the same or similar process applies to reviewing literary work before its publication.

Wikipedia says this about peer review:

Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence to the producers of the work (peers). It constitutes a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. Peer review methods are employed to maintain standards of quality, improve performance, and provide credibility…. Peer review can be categorized by the type of activity and by the field or profession in which the activity occurs….

So, when did this get started? Again, according to WIKI:

The first peer-reviewed publication might have been the Medical Essays and Observations published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1731. The present-day peer-review system evolved from this 18th-century process.

It might have started in the medical profession, but in today’s ever-evolving world of literary publication, readers are still as important to the process as editors, agents, and publishers. Sometimes called “early readers” or “beta readers,” our job is to help the writer make the manuscript the best it can be before she submits it for publication.

keep-calm-and-be-a-beta-readerThe literary agent who has shown interest in my novel has several “readers” on her staff. Small presses and university presses often enlist the help of outside readers. I was recently asked to review a memoir for a university press. My first reaction was, “but I’m too busy doing my own work.” About one second later I realized how selfish that sounded. I remembered that others had taken time to read and review my essays before they were published in several anthologies. I pictured my (very busy) husband laboring over articles written by his peers. Peer review. It’s just part of what we do.

peerreview-guidelines-lecture-1-728Trial by jury is a form of peer review. A few years ago I was called up for jury duty. Again, my first reaction was selfish—why should I give up my precious time for that? And then I thought about the jury I would want—a jury of my peers. Not a jury of folks who had nothing better to do. I would want people who are intelligent and live active, productive lives. Who are well read, sensitive, and compassionate. These are the same qualities I hope for in the people who read and review my writing. These are the qualities I strive for in myself as I accept the honor and privilege of reviewing the work of my fellow writers.

Faith on Friday: (Get ready for) The Season of the Nativity

SYBIL_MACBETHMy friend and fellow Memphis writer, Sybil MacBeth, has a new book out just in time for families to use in their preparation for Christmas. It’s called The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas & Epiphany Extremist.

If Sybil’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because of her best-selling books, Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God, Praying in Black and White, Praying in Color: Kids’ Edition, and Praying in Color–Portable Edition. Sybil also does workshops all over the world.

The Western traditions surrounding Christmas differ at bit from the Eastern Orthodox practices that my church has embraced for many years, but the approach is similar. And the book not only suggests activities your family can do together, it also shares the author’s personal spiritual struggles, addressing issues many readers probably also face.

Come to the Booksellers at Laurelwood for the launch of The Season of the Nativity on November 13. But you might want to get the book sooner so you can begin to enjoy the activities leading up to Christmas!

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