Writing on Wednesday: What is a Writer?

writer world trapped in person

Mental Health Monday: People Who Need People


I found this wonderful image over at Madelyn March’s blog, “A Writer’s Journal.” Another good place to go if you’re looking for a writer’s community:  https://madelynmarch.com/tag/writing-community/


I’m a people person. Well, sort of. I do enjoy my time alone, but it’s almost counter to my personality that I work so many hours every week alone in my office, with no one to talk to.

Imagine this: You work for an insurance company, or you’re a CPA, or maybe you sell advertising or houses, or maybe you’re a lawyer. You go into work every day, but no one else is in the office. It’s just you and your computer and maybe a coffee maker. No one to chat with during breaks. No one to discuss business problems with. No one to share successful moments with. Just when you land that new client or sell that house or solve that client’s legal problems, you turn around in your chair to high-five a colleague, and there’s no one there. That’s what it’s like to be a writer.

So whenever I find the opportunity, I get together with other writers. My monthly critique group is a hugely important venue for not only social interaction with other writers, but also an opportunity to hone my craft, to get feedback on my latest project, and to hopefully help my fellow writers with theirs. That (short) two to two-and-a-half-hour gathering feels like a lifeline for someone who works in isolation. I wrote about this a few years ago in “The Strange Pull of What You Really Love.” (writing about Hemingway)

Just when I need another writer to high-five (because of my recent book deal) here comes Wendy Reed, an author friend who lives in Birmingham, to spend the weekend with me. With my husband out of town, we would have the house to ourselves. Wendy was spending a few hours in a small town in north Mississippi on her trip over, doing some research for a book. When she arrived, we talked for three hours straight, and then made a plan for the rest of the weekend: She would work in the dining room and living room, and I’d be back in my office. But we would take breaks for snacks and meals and talk about how our work was going, and read excerpts to each other. It was magical.

14095882_10209407038166746_1365473881966335148_nAt the end of the day on Saturday we went down to Tug’s, the casual restaurant on the Mississippi River near my house, for drinks and dinner, and then walked across the street to take pictures at sunset. It felt like a celebration! Returning home we ran into my neighbor and life/writing mentor, Sally Thomason (out walking her dog) and she came over for a champagne toast to (1) my new book deal and (2) the anthology I’m editing that both she and Wendy contributed essays to. And the three of us talked “business” for another hour or two, just like we might have done at the end of a day together in the office. And I thought, “So this is what it feels like to work around other people.” (Okay, full disclosure, it was prosecco, not champagne, and my sweet husband brought it home to celebrate with me the day I got the book deal, but I wasn’t feeling well, so we decided to open it another day. I’m going to replace the bottle this afternoon and share it with him soon!)

I’m definitely a person who needs people. So now that my weekend visit with Wendy is over and it’s time to get back to work (alone) I’ll stay in touch with Wendy (and other writers) through email and Facebook, which helps me not feel so alone. And later this morning, when I’m sitting in the waiting room at the car dealer while my car is being maintenanced, I’ll find that fellowship I crave… in the pages of a good book. My current read? Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women. And I’m re-reading Wendy’s mixed-genre book, An Accidental Memoir: How I Killed Someone and Other Stories.

Hope everyone has a good week! Take care of your mental health… work hard, read a good book, relax, and find a friend to hang out with!

Faith on Friday: Faith-Based Presses and Four-Letter Words

I’ve got exciting news that can’t wait for next week’s “Writing on Wednesday” post: I just got a publishing deal for my book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s! It’s a collection of essays culled from eight years of blog posts. I’m over the moon with excitement. But here’s something I didn’t see coming. The publisher is a small, faith-based press (they also publish secular work, and mine really isn’t a “Christian” book) with a pretty loyal readership (they send out regular newsletters with their catalogue), so they asked me to edit out the four-letter words!



The funny part is, they don’t even know my husband is a priest. He’s probably rolling his eyes if he’s reading this, although he really likes my novel, Cherry Bomb, which will not be published by a faith-based press.

The bottom line is I’m happy to oblige, and I certainly don’t want to offend any potential readers. The publisher is thinking the target audience is baby boomers who are caregivers—at some level—for their aging parents. Or maybe even some of those aging parents themselves. But I hope that younger folks will also read Tangles and Plaques. Maybe it will help some people who might be facing these issues in the future. And evidently that’s a lot of people. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and more than fifteen million people provide care to people with dementia.

So, I hope the censorship protestors will forgive me for taking out some of those colorful words. Hopefully the words that are left will be enough to move you to tears, laughter, or both.

Writing on Wednesday: Kudos to an Excellent Copy Editor!

keep-calm-and-trust-your-copy-editor-1Two weeks ago I did a post about the “first pages” I was anxious to receive from the press that is publishing A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant To Be—the anthology I’m editing. I explained how the publishing process worked, at least with this particular press, and I was excited to get started responding to the copy editor’s comments and questions.

Yesterday I put my responses back in the mail to the press. It was quite a process, and I actually had a great time working on it. To begin with, the copy editor is wonderful! She caught things I didn’t catch when I did the initial editing of these twenty essays contributed by twenty writers.  For most of the pieces, I was able to confidently accept or reject her changes, on behalf of the contributors. But there were several questions and comments that I didn’t feel comfortable answering, so I sent them off to the original authors for their replies. There were also several author bios that needed updating, so gathering those was also part of the process. The best thing about this project is that the contributors are all such excellent writers that there weren’t massive edits needed. An editor’s dream! And what a glowing comment from the copy editor to the contributors (see below).

from copy editor for ASB


I went through the manuscript three times, finally deciding that it was ready to return to the press. Next I’ll receive the “second pages,” or “galleys,” which will include the artwork and layout, showing how the book will actually look when published. I can’t wait!

Of course there’s always that fear that we might miss something. Whenever I find a typo in a published book, I cringe, knowing that the author and editor and publisher must also be cringing. But in the end, we’re only human, and once we’ve done our best work, I guess we have to trust the reader to forgive our mistakes and enjoy the stories we have poured our hearts and souls into. I can’t wait to share A Second Blooming with all of you! Stay tuned….

Mental Health Monday: Guests on Earth

guestsonearthcover_250I just finished Lee Smith’s 2014 novel, Guests on Earth, and I am in awe of her. What a masterpiece! Just a few weeks ago I did a post about her memoir, Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, which was also amazing. When I learned that her son had schizophrenia and took his own life, I wanted to read Guests on Earth, which is set mostly at Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, where Smith’s son was treated in the 1980s, and where her father was a patient in the 1950s. But the most prominent patient was Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her beauty and brilliance are shown throughout the novel, as her talents in dance and painting and writing are revealed, along with some complexities surrounding her marriage.

All of this is told through a fictional narrator, Evalina Toussaint, a thirteen-year-old orphan who is admitted to the hospital in 1936 and is taken under Zelda Fitzgerald’s wing. What fascinated me most about the book was the way Smith treated the “guests” (patients) at the hospital. Well, first of all the way the staff treated them in the book—with respect and kindness and none of the terrible things we might come to expect after One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But beyond that, I love the way Smith showed each patient’s flawed humanity gently, as she highlighted their talents and gifts. Whether they were struggling with depression or schizophrenia or other mental health issues, they were first and foremost valuable human beings, portrayed with elegance by the author. If you’re wondering about the title, Smith explains it in her notes at the end of the book:

The title comes from a letter Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his daughter, Scottie, in 1940: ‘The insane are always mere guests on earth, eternal strangers carrying around broken decalogues that they cannot read.’ This novel intends to examine the very thing line between sanity and insanity. Who’s ‘crazy’ and who’s not? What does that even mean? I’m especially interested in women and madness—and in the resonance between art and madness. I also want to show that very real lives are lived within these illnesses.

And she succeeds in Guests on Earth, a novel of historic, scientific, and artistic importance. I recommend it for anyone whose life has been touched by mental illness, but also anyone who loves good literature.

Faith on Friday: Wisdom of the Saints

Final_2016_Cover_copy_q8mndnWe have a wonderful calendar that we get each year from The Orthodox Calendar Company called “Daily Lives, Miracles, and Wisdom of the Saints and Fasting Calendar.” For each day there’s a quote from a saint, information about a saint or feast being commemorated that day, Epistle and Gospel readings, and information about fasting guidelines for the day/season. The company has a Facebook page, and the book is also available for Kindle and other eReaders. (Most) every morning, I use this book with my morning prayers, which I pray in our icon corner in our dining room. It almost always helps me focus for the day ahead. The first line of my Morning Prayers is “Grant me to greet the coming day in peace.” Another line says, “Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Thy will governs all.” Peace of soul. That’s one of the goals of the saints whose wisdom is offered in these quotes. Today I’ll share a few that have blessed me recently, and I pray that they bring peace of soul to you. I’m especially thinking about those suffering from the flood in Louisiana and the fires in California today. Lord have mercy!

One must act in such a way that the soul does not turn to God only when one is standing in prayer, but should do so as far as possible throughout the day. It should be an unceasing offering of one’s self to Him.—St. Theophan the Recluse

If you possess love, you feel no jealousy or envy. You are not boastful, carried away by reckless pride. Nor do you put on airs with anyone. Nor do you act shamefully towards your fellow beings. You seek, not simply what is to your own advantage, but what also benefits your fellow beings. You are not quickly provoked by those who are angry with you.—St. Niketas Stethatos

If you are entirely deprived of something, do not hope in man or be distressed; and do not grumble against anyone. Rather, endure eagerly and calmly—reflecting as follows: ‘I am deserving of many afflictions, on account of my sins; but if God wishes to show mercy to me, He is able to do so.’ If you think along these lines, He will fulfill your every need.—St Isaac the Syrian

That one would be really hard for me if I had just lost everything in a flood or a fire.

Remember never to fear the power of evil more than your trust in the power and love of God.—Apostle Hermas of the Seventy

While we have time, let us visit Christ, let us serve Christ, let us nourish Christ, let us clothe Christ, let us offer hospitality to Christ, let us honor Christ.—St. Gregory the Theologian


Danielle Blount kisses her 3-month-old baby Ember as she feeds her while they wait to be evacuated by members of the Louisiana Army National Guard.

Because even as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto Christ.

I’m sure there are many sites offering ways to help the victims of the flood in Louisiana, but this one seems especially helpful:

“How to Help Victims of Louisiana Floods” (Huffington Post)



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!

Mental Health Monday: The Best Medicine for Grief

This post is a day late because I was traveling home from Denver yesterday, where we just spent the weekend with two of our kids and all four granddaughters. Celebrating Izzy’s first birthday and Anna’s sixth, and also enjoying Gabby (4) and Grace (7) and their folks so much.I feel that I might have turned a corner on the grief and depression I’ve been struggling with all summer. I’m not saying it’s over, but I’m learning to let it be. I’m also learning not to completely crash, emotionally, over the fact that I’ve gained back some of the weight I worked so hard to lose this past year. I understand that I was eating and drinking to comfort my loss, but I’m ready to let go of some of that and move forward today. Being with our family (all except Jon, whom we miss!) this weekend was the best medicine! So I’m not going to write any more on this post, but simply share some pictures. How can I not be happy, right?

Anna Susu Grace

Anna Gabby slide 2

Pops Izzy



Anna Gabby

Izzy feeding doll

izzy drinking doll bottle

Faith on Friday: Most Holy Mother of God, Save Us!

il_570xN.817688957_oyk3We’re in the Atlanta airport waiting for our connecting flight to Denver. I was going to skip blogging today until I realized that I’ve got a bit of time here. And then I was thinking of writing about Elvis and the Mother of God—who are commemorated on August 14 and 15—but then I realized that I did that last year. And yet the Mother of God is on my heart today.

For the past two weeks Orthodox Christians have been observing the “Dormition Fast” and praying Paraclesis Prayers to the Mother of God three nights a week—or at least that’s how it plays out at St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis. These two weeks lead up to the Feast of the Dormition (death/passing to Heaven) of the Mother of God on August 15, a celebration we will miss as we will be preparing to travel back home from Denver that morning. Anyway, many times during those prayer services we chant the line, “Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us!”
These are words that sometimes cause non-Orthodox Christians to stumble a bit. Well, except for Catholics. Growing up in the Presbyterian Church I heard very little about Mary, other than at Christmas when she seemed to receive a place of honor. But Orthodox Christians look to her for help, as this verse of the Paraclesis says:

il_570xN.818289498_68iu“After God do all of us for refuge flee unto thee.” After God. Not equal with God. We don’t worship Mary, but as “Theotokos,” which means God-bearer, we venerate her, we love her, and cry out to her with love and praise but also for help in time of need. Especially as a mother and grandmother and Godmother, I find myself turning to her to intercede for my children and grandchildren and Godchildren. It is as natural to me now as saying, “Lord have mercy.”

If you’d like to read something more theological about this, here are two (among many) good articles, both by Orthodox priests:

Why the Orthodox Honor Mary” by Father Stephen Freeman, and

“Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us!” by Father John Breck.

As we fly to Denver today to celebrate two of our four granddaughters’ birthdays and enjoy being with two of our four children and their families, I’ll be thanking the Mother of God for keeping them safe and healthy, and for the joy and blessing of having them in my life. These Asian images of the Mother of God and Christ are for you, Jason, Beth, Grace, Anna, Beth, Gabby and Izzy.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us!

Writing on Wednesday: “First Pages” Coming Today!

Large Purple Flower tattoo on woman's backAlthough I’ve been published in three anthologies (as a contributor) I’m new to the business of publishing as an author or editor. As editor of A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, I’m working with an academic press on the publishing process. Last week they let me know they were meeting to discuss cover art, and asked for suggestions/input from me. I wish I had spent more time thinking about this, and only had a couple of suggestions at the last minute. This was my favorite (the woman with the flower tattoo) but I understood the press’s concerns that the cover might be a bit too edgy and limit market appeal. On the other hand, I don’t want a bunch of flowers and lacy images that look like the cover of Farmer’s Almanac. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

proofingMeanwhile, the copy editor is sending me what they call “first pages” today. In their parlay, “first pages” means the copyedited manuscript, which is returned to me for proofreading and any corrections. This set of pages won’t include any art or design. I’m supposed to return the manuscript with my corrections in two weeks.

Once they enter all the corrections, they will return the complete designed and formatted book for me to proof again. They call this “second pages.” Sometimes these are called galleys. I found a blog post from a couple of years ago by Nathan Bransford (agent/author) in which he defines a lot of publishing terms. If you’re interested, it’s here

“Book Publishing Glossary”

After I return the second pages with my corrections, the press will finish the cover design—dust jacket for hardcover or cover for paperback. After getting quotes from printers, they choose one and send everything off to be printed, which can take 4-8 weeks. Finally the book will arrive in the warehouse, I’ll get my copies, and it will take another 6 weeks or so for nationwide distribution.

I hope you enjoyed this little inside peek into the publishing world—or at least what it looks like in my current experience. Stay tuned as the journey continues! And always, thanks for reading.

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