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!

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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!

Writing on Wednesday: The Rule of 50 and Technique vs. Storytelling

world-dominationThis morning I woke up thinking about my goals as a writer. I quickly made this list:

Finish writing and revising novel. √

Get an agent. (One is reading revisions now, but hasn’t signed me yet.)

Agent gets (good) book deal.

Book sells well.

So, what’s missing from this list? Possibly the most important goal:

Readers love the book!

It hit me that just because a book sells well that doesn’t guarantee that readers like the book. Here’s how I came to that conclusion.

By my bed I have four books that I purchased and started reading over the past couple of months but didn’t continue. Here are the titles and authors, and the page on which I quit reading each book:

The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham (page 26)

The Raphael Affair by Iain Pears (page 67)

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (page 94)

Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo (page 167)

PJ-BO703_STOPRE_G_20130604181822I decided to look at each book and consider why I quit reading it.

First I read this article in the Wall Street Journal, “Guilt Complex: Why Leaving a Book Half-Read Is So Hard.” I was more interested in why people quit reading than why they make themselves continue reading something they’re not interested in. This was interesting:

Leigh Haber, books editor at O, the Oprah Magazine, who suggests candidates to Oprah Winfrey for her consideration for the popular Oprah Book Club, says that while the obvious reasons for abandoning books are distraction and boredom, she attributes much of the behavior to a backlash against writing in which technique trumps storytelling.

Writing workshops teach you to focus on technique, especially if you’re trying to write literary fiction. (Here we go again with the old argument about literary vs. commercial fiction, right?) But a good writing teacher will also tell you that without a great story—and one that keeps you moving forward for the duration of the book—your novel will bore readers. Even readers like me who appreciate a beautifully crafted sentence and a perfectly placed metaphor.

The editor I’m working with on my novel revisions (and the agent who has shown interest) praised my writing techniques, character development and attention to details in the settings. But they said the plot needed work—especially in the middle, where it sagged. So I considered these 4 books I’ve set aside to see why I lost interest. I was expecting to find that it was a sagging plot in each case, but it wasn’t.

The Snow Queen is by one of my favorite authors, Michael Cunningham, who wrote The Hours. I patterned some of the structure for my novel after The Hours and I love Cunningham’s writing. So why did I quit reading after a short 26 pages? The writing is exquisite. The theme—the search for transcendence—is intriguing. But the characters don’t hold my interest. It’s told through the point of view of a young man, and I’m much more drawn to stories that take me into a woman’s mind. What I read about the story line from the inside flap doesn’t wow me, either. But I might come back to this one later, just because I don’t want to give up on Cunningham.

I started reading The Rafael Affair by Iaian Pears because he writes “art mysteries,” and my next novel, which I’ve just started, is about a famous painting. Someone in my writing critique group suggested I read some of Pears’ work to see if I want to lean my novel towards mystery. The book has a similar flavor to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, but again the protag is a man, which might be why I’m not enthralled with it. It’s on the back burner for now….

I can’t remember who recommended Debra Dean’s national bestseller, The Madonnas of Leningrad, but it has all the elements that should hold my interest—female protagonist, art, love, survival. Obviously I wasn’t too bored, since I read 93 pages before stopping, right after a fairly erotic scene, actually. Flipping through the pages leading up to my stopping point, I remember that the timeline was sometimes confusing, and the emotion bordered on melodramatic. There’s still a chance I’ll return to it….

Finally, I bought Three Story House at the author’s reading and signing here in Memphis recently. Courtney Miller Santo’s book strikes me as upmarket commercial fiction. The plot moves along quickly, told through the voices of three young women living in an old house one of them is restoring. And yet 166 pages in, I’m not compelled to continue reading. I think there’s not enough at stake for the protagonist and the two supporting characters. Maybe not enough conflict. I’m not sure I’ll return to this book.
But I’ll try to learn from all of them when the next round of revisions is requested by the agent who is currently reading my novel. I’ll especially try to remember that storytelling trumps technique where most readers are concerned.

Nancy PearlHere’s an interesting post in Publisher’s Weekly’s blog, “Shelf Talker,”—“When  Do You Stop Reading a Book?” Scroll down to the comments for some good reflections. One of the comments I found interesting:

Years ago I heard a “Rule of 50″ that applies to this question. I do not remember the source. The gist is – the reader should give any book at least 50 pages to determine whether or not to continue. But, for each year over the age of 50, subtract 1 page.

The-Condition-by-Jennifer-Haigh-mdnI’m 63, so following this rule, I should only give a book 37 pages before deciding whether or not to continue reading. Is that because life is too short to read mediocre books or because our attention span declines as we grow older? Either way, I’m moving on to the next book on my bedside table—The Condition (Harper Collins, 2008) by Jennifer Haigh. I started it yesterday and read 47 pages and didn’t want to quit reading, so that’s a good sign. Andre Dubus III (House of Sand and Fog) says it’s “unsentimental, compelling, and moving.” Kirkus Reviews says it’s “filled with genuine insight and touching lyricism.” Sounds like everything I love in a book. The folks at the New York Times thought so when it first came out. I’ll let you know when I finish it.

Writing on Wednesday: Agent Update and Mid-South Book Festival!

editorcatIt’s been two months since I sent my novel revisions back to the literary agent who asked me to work with an editor to make some improvements. I’ve tried to be patient, but yesterday I decided to squeak the wheel a bit. I sent an email asking if they had read the new version yet. Here’s the reply I received from one of the agent’s assistants:

Dear Susan,

We hope you are doing well and we apologize for the delay.

Cherry Bomb is currently going through the process of reading. [The agent] and our readers are evaluating your revised manuscript and we will be in touch shortly. 

Thank you for your patience, Susan, and we hope you have a lovely day.

Best wishes,

[Name]

Assistant to [Agent]

I breathed a sigh of relief. They’re still reading. Of course I’m anxious for their response, but I’ll try to practice patience. Writing and publishing—it’s a slow business.

If you’re wanting to polish your writing skills, two of my friends (who are also in a Memphis writers group with me) are leading workshops this Saturday at the first ever Mid-South Book Festival at Memphis Botanic Gardens.

Emma French Connolly

Emma French Connolly

Emma Connolly will be leading a Creative Writing Seminar from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday. Emma will guide writers using writing prompts and fun activities. Emma is a writer, artist and clothing designer for little girls under the label French Boundary. She is also a deacon in the Episcopal Church currently serving at St. John’s in Memphis. Connolly’s award-winning stories include fiction and creative non-fiction, and one of her novel manuscripts was a finalist in Amazon’s Great American Novel contest. As founder of WriteMemphis (now a program of Literacy Mid-South) she loves writing with others, especially teens, and facilitates a spiritual writing group on Saturday mornings. She blogs at Welcome to Emmaville. 

Ellen Morris Prewitt

Ellen Morris Prewitt

Ellen Prewitt is also leading a writing workshop, from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, called “Better Writing Through Writing Groups.” Learn how to set up both traditional writing groups (write on your own; critique in groups) and alternative writing groups (creating new work in the company of others); how to get the most out of your writing group; also, attendees might meet others who are interested in keeping the Festival enthusiasm going.

Ellen Morris Prewitt’s fiction and essays have appeared in literary journals (Hotel Amerika, Barrelhouse, and Gulf Coast Literary Journal being her favorites); won contests (both the fiction and nonfiction contests of the Tennessee Writers Alliance, as well as the Memphis Magazine Fiction Contest); and received recognition (two short stories were nominated for a Pushcart Prize; one received a Special Mention). Her essay “Tetanus, You Understand?” was included as an example of metaphor in Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir by Sue Silverman, and her nonfiction book was published by a small press (Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God, Paraclete Press). Morris also recorded and released online her short story collection, Cain’t Do Nothing with Love. Ellen founded and created a writing group for the homeless at the Door of Hope and has been facilitating writing groups for several years. Ellen just edited a collection of stories published by the Door of Hope authors, Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness (Triton Press, 2014).

Ellen will also be on a panel at 11:30 a.m: Agents for Aspiring Writers

Do aspiring writers need an agent? How does a person get an agent? What should one expect from an agent? Chris Tusa, Writer-In-Residence at Southeastern Louisiana University, and author Ellen Morris Prewitt will provide the answers to aspirating writers in this great panel discussion. Moderated by Darel Snodgrass from WKNO-FM.

lms_msbf14_printads_poster_12x18-page-001_categoryYou can see the full schedule for Saturday’s events here. There are also events on Thursday – Sunday, which you can see on the schedule menu button on the festival web site. It should be a beautiful day to be at the Botanic Gardens and a great time to check out the regional authors who will be speaking, reading and signing books.

My friend, Neil White, author of the best-selling memoir, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, will be speaking at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Both Burke’s Books and the Booksellers at Laurelwood will be on hand with all the authors’ books. Hope lots of folks can make it out to support Memphis’s first book festival, which benefits Literacy Midsouth.

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