VOTE for a Book Cover for FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY! And . . . Herding Cats . . . again!

For those of you who know me, you know that I like to have several balls in the air at once. I get bored—or even depressed—if I don’t have an active creative project in the works at all times. Which is why I am in various stages of pre-production for TWO MORE BOOKS to be published this year. That will mean I will have published 6 books in 3 years. With 6 different publishers. In 4 different genres: 1 memoir, 1 novel, 3 anthologies, and 1 collection of linked short stories. Here’s the status of those next two books.

FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY will be published in August by Koehler Books. Just TODAY I finished proofing the galleys (the text of the book). Please follow this link and VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE COVER design!

 

 

THE PULPWOOD QUEENS CELEBRATE 20 YEARS! is the third anthology I’ve edited. My experience working with 20 authors as editor for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press, 2017) and then with 26 authors for Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018) should have prepared me for this new project. And in many ways, of course, it did. But here’s the thing. This time I’m working with over 70 contributors. Yes. 48 authors and over 20 folks who are either members of Pulpwood Queens book clubs, friends and family of Kathy L. Murphy, the Pulpwood Queens founder and director, or folks who work closely with her—think journalists, webmasters, interns, magazine editors, librarians, etc. We’re aiming at December for publication, so stay tuned for updates!

 

Still Blooming . . . .

I’m still processing what happened at last weekend’s “A Second Blooming Retreat,” at the lovely Homestead Education Center in Starkville, Mississippi. After writing about Nina Gaby’s wonderful workshop during the retreat—and my discovery of my spirit animal—in my last post, and also about the drum circle led by Jeri Mangum, I’d like to share a bit about the rest of the retreat.

Ellen, Kathy, Jennifer, Susan and Nina, retreat leaders

About twenty women from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Vermont (yes, Nina flew down to lead a workshop for the retreat) gathered in jeans and yoga pants, most not worrying about makeup and jewelry, for a weekend of inspiration and growth. And delicious food prepared by an excellent cook who used locally sourced organic produce for our meals. We sat around a large, comfortable living area with several couches and chairs, overlooking a lake, some woods, and a few pens full of chickens.

My “keynote” talk on Friday night would serve as an introduction to the weekend and would hopefully set the stage for all the creative magic that would follow. I had never given such an extensive talk about the anthology I edited, the one that that retreat was inspired by—A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. As I developed notes for my talk, I created a little booklet to hand out for the women to use. You can see it here: ASB Retreat Workbook I had an hour and a half to talk, and I certainly didn’t want these women to have to sit and listen to me talk for that long, so I injected some interactive elements into my talk. At one point each woman was asked to write a “word portrait” of themselves—describing their physical, emotional, mental, and intellectual selves. This idea wasn’t original with me. It came from Sally Palmer Thomason’s wonderful book The Living Spirit of the Crone: Turning Aging Inside Out. (Sally also has an essay in A Second Blooming, and was a big part of the inspiration for the book.)

Much of my talk was an expansion of the Introduction I wrote for the anthology, which included lots of quotes from others who inspired—and continue to inspire—me on this journey. People like Richard Rohr, and Anne Lamott. I also read excerpts from essays in the book by a few women who weren’t on the panel of workshop leaders at the retreat, like Emma Connolly, Suzanne Henley, and Cassandra King.

Later in the talk each of us filled two containers with descriptions of things we had put into our “old containers” (ourselves) the first half of our lives—some helpful, others not so helpful—and then the things we want to put into our “new container.” The idea for the containers came from Richard Rohr, especially this quote:

“Life is much more spacious now the boundaries of the container having been enlarged by the constant addition of new experiences and relationships. You are like an expandable suitcase, and you become so almost without your noticing. Now you are just here, and here holds more than enough.”

His “expandable suitcase” analogy reminded me of the scriptural metaphor of the “new wineskins,” and I talked about how we needed to either expand our old wineskins (containers we had built for our lives) or get new ones, as Cassandra King wrote about in her essay for the anthology, “Something Has to Die.”

I even shared my containers so that the women would perhaps feel more emboldened to be candid in their entries. (See image.) After both of these activities there was time for others to share if they wanted to, and I was so moved and encouraged by the candor and courage of these lovely women.

The next morning Ellen Morris Prewitt led a wonderful workshop about “Creating In Groups.” Our hands-on activity was making a small book, which we sewed together and decorated with glitter paint, and in which we wrote our ideas based on Ellen’s talk about the importance of guidance, quiet, and sharing.

 

And then we did an exercise in which we wrote a spontaneous piece about one of three prompts:

My best surprise

Something I’ve grown

My favorite delicate thing.

I chose “Something I’ve Grown,” which inspired the title on the cover of my little hand-made book, “Roots, Leaves & Blooms: How I Grew a Marriage.”

Nina Gaby led the next workshop, “Little Altars Everywhere,” which I wrote about in my last post.

Jennifer Horne (who happends to be the current Poet Laureate of Alabama) led our evening session, “How Our Stories Shape Us.” She led us in several exercises in journaling, which she said is wonderful for those who want “self-directed healing and growth.” Some of the prompts we wrote from were:

“Change came when . . . .”

“I’m feel . . .”

“I’m like a seed because . . .”

After some excellent and candid group discussions about these things in our lives, she had us “flip the story,” (a phrase that Alison Buehler, our retreat hostess, came up with on the spot!) and write:

“I used to . . . but now . . . .”

I’m still thinking of ways to “flip my story,” and I think that will stick with me for a long time.

On Sunday Morning Kathy Rhodes led us through the final workshop of the weekend, “Pushing Up the Sun,” which was the title of her essay in the anthology. Kathy lost her husband suddenly a number of years ago, and writes powerfully about grief and healing. As it turned out (of course) there were several other women at the retreat who also lost their husbands—several of them in the same year, 2012—and they all had powerful things to share as well. I think they would all agree that at first they felt like Kathy, who wrote in her essay:

“I didn’t want to start over. I was not in the building phase of life. In my fifties, I should be basking in the easy warmth of love, on the cusp of twilight years with my mate.”

But she did start over—selling the business she owned with her husband and starting a new one. Building a new home, and eventually getting a new pet. She continues to bloom, and her experience and wisdom brought enlightenment to all of us at the retreat that Sunday morning.

I found myself wishing that Michelle Obama could have been there with us, as I shared this excerpt (and a longer one, actually) from her wonderful memoir, Becoming:

“Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done . . . . It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others.”

That’s exactly what I believe happened at the Second Blooming retreat, and I’m so grateful to Alison for organizing the retreat and hosting us, to the four gifted authors who came and led the workshops, and to the amazing women who came and shared their stories with all of us.

Here are what a few of the retreat-goers and leaders had to say about the weekend:

I was hooked when I arrived at The Homestead Education Center and saw the goats and the lake and the chickens! I was met at the door by Kathie, a most beautiful and sweet and welcoming woman, and then one by one, I met the others…strong women in their roles and struggles and wisdom and power and all looking to become and to bloom. I presented, but I also participated in creative and interactive workshops by Ellen, Nina, and Jennifer. I made a reliquary that held seashells reminiscent of the ebb and flow of life, titled a book about self “Waterfalls of White,” saw how stories shape us, shared my own journaling experience, participated in a drum circle for the first time ever, and was challenged: DO EPIC SHIT! I went to talk, but I went home thinking all the way on the five-hour drive, “I’m not where I’m supposed to be.” I feel lifted up ten feet taller now. It’s almost spring; it’s time to bloom!—Kathy Rhodes, Spring Hill, Tennessee, author of Remember the Dragonflies, and an essay in A Second Blooming: “Pushing Up the Sun.”

Susan Cushman conjured up 22 writers who shared savory stories in the book A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. From that book the workshop birthed by Allison Buehler was hosted at an oasis in the Starkville woods complete with chickens, goats, and a cray cray red cardinal in a holly bush that hurled himself against a picture window wanting to join our group. Susan encouraged us to not put new wine in old skins. Ellen Prewitt told us to put the date on anything so we can remember when present was.   Jennifer Horne showed up how to see, record, and respond to life experiences. Flip that thing like a Patty Duke hairstyle. The elfin Nina Gaby offered us sacred crafts to inspire us when we find ourselves stuck. Kathy Rhodes reminded us that loss can be the seed growing in shit that blooms into something wonderful.   We had chair yoga, healthy meals, and incredible sharing from a collage of wonderful women. And when all the women were drummers, we were there, playing musical chairs with percussion instruments brought by Jeri Mangum. I am at my computer today roaming around past writing efforts. Inspired to keep it going. Thank you, ladies, for the gift of gathering with you!—Susan Hogan Schepens, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

When asked to write an essay for Susan Cushman’s anthology A Second Blooming: Becoming The Women We Are Meant to Be, I had just gone through a second blooming that was, for me, of epic proportions. I felt that I was an expert on the subject. But when I got the finished product and read the other essays, I realized that we all have second bloomings in our lives. Many women go on to bloom over and over again, reinventing themselves and experiencing life to the fullest. Some of the essays resonated with me deep in my soul, and when I saw that Susan was planning a retreat based on Second Bloomings, and the authors that wrote some of the the very essays that were especially powerful to me were going to be presenting, I believe I may have been the first to register for the event. I did it without thought or hesitation. I knew I wanted to be sequestered at the Homestead Education Center for a weekend with those women. I knew I could learn from them and gain insight from them, and I did. I also got more than I bargained for in almost instant friendships. Honestly, I had not factored in the other women who would be attending. They were each powerful in their own way, overcoming hardships and heartbreak, some even in the midst of their struggle. The level of trust and confidence each woman had in the group was so special. I loved the group of women from Starkville and the group from Hattiesburg. Each of those groups have such a strong bond and support and love one another. They opened their arms to all who came on their own, independent of a group. I have been to many retreats over the years, but this one was especially special. There was a sort of magic there that only happens when good things converge. There were plenty of good things over the weekend that soothed my soul, gave me clarity and direction and warmed my heart. I left with great memories and new friends. I’m grateful I had that knee-jerk reaction to register when I first read about the retreat. I’ve learned to trust my gut and do it! Thank you to all who presented such a meaningful and memorable weekend. I love you all. Now go out and bang your own drum!—Susan Marquez, Madison, Mississippi, whose essay, “A Second Chance at Empty-Nesting,” appeared in A Second Blooming

I’ll close with a link to Nina Gaby’s blog post about the retreat, which is wonderful!

“Not Bad For a Yankee.”

And also Ellen Morris Prewitt’s blog post, which is also wonderful!

“I Second a Blooming.”

Several women have asked if there will be another “Blooming” retreat. The fact that they are asking speaks volumes, and all I can see is, “We’ll see!”

Book Deal #5: The Pulpwood Queens Celebrate 20 Years!

News flash for any of my readers who aren’t on Facebook or Instagram:

I have a book deal for my 5th book, coming out late 2019 or early 2020! I will be editing another anthology:

The Pulpwood Queens Celebrate 20 Years!

 

Collaborating with the Pulpwood Queens founder, Kathy L. Murphy, and Brother Mockingbird Publishing, this anthology will have essays by authors, book club members, journalists, and others involved in the world of books and publishing who have participated in the annual event held every January in East Texas known as Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend.

Obviously, all of the members of the more than 700 Pulpwood Queens book clubs will want to read this book, but what about everyone else? Why would YOU want to read this, if you’re not a member of the Pulpwood Queens and you’ve never been to Girlfriend Weekend? If you love to read, this book will be a valuable resource in which you will discover dozens of authors whose books you will want to explore. And if you’re in a book club at all, you’ll enjoy the anecdotes and tributes in the book. It might even inspire you to read more (our hope), or join a book club yourself.

Stay tuned for pub dates, so you’ll know when the book will be available in book stores and online.

 

A Second Blooming Retreat: Introducing our Closing Ceremony Leader

Jeri Mangum

Jeri Mangum

I’ve done several posts recently to introduce the speakers/workshop leaders for the A SECOND BLOOMING RETREAT to be held at The Homestead Education Center in Starkville, Mississippi, March 1-3. More information and registration are here.

Links to the previous posts are here:

Ellen Morris Prewitt, “The Joy of Creating in a Group Setting”

Nina Gaby, “Little Altars Everywhere”

Jennifer Horne, “How Our Stories Shape Us

Kathy Rhodes, “Pushing Up the Sun”

Today I’d like to introduce the woman who will be leading our closing ceremony on Sunday morning.

Jeri Mangum or ‘Just Jeri’ as she calls herself is a survivor!

She was a working wife and mom who retired from Mississippi State University in 2009 when her husband’s health became an issue. Jeri learned a lot of life lessons during the two and a half years that she cared for Bob as his health declined. After his death, Jeri discovered the work friends and couples friends were no longer there. And that is where her story begins . . .

drum-circleDuring her husband’s time in the nursing home, Jeri had observed the residents’ love of outside visitors who came and performed a variety of talents. It was that seed that drove her to fulfill her yearning for playing the drum. Hand drumming is her “happy/healing place”. She has led drum circles in Starkville at the assisted living center, the nursing homes, and for interested women who meet for renewal. Research is proving the therapeutic benefits of drumming and Jeri is living proof!

ASB cover w PQ badgeHer close circle of friends (FROGS/ Friends Readily Offering Genuine Support) know her to be the extrovert of the group who is always planning the next event or outing. Jeri is always willing to try new things and admits she loves making people smile.

So, come and bloom with us: create, write, discuss, walk, do yoga, drum, read, listen, eat, rest, and be inspired. Everyone who comes will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE.

Spaces are filling, so register soon!

A Second Blooming Retreat Speakers: Part 4

I’m following up on my recent post, in which I gave a link to information about the A Second Blooming Retreat this March 1-3 in Starkville, Mississippi, and in which I introduced one of the workshop leaders, Ellen Morris Prewitt. The retreat schedule is also in that post.

In the following post, I introduced another speaker, Nina Gaby.

And on Tuesday I featured Jennifer Horne.
Kathy for ASB retreatToday I’d like you to meet our final workshop leader, Kathy Rhodes. Kathy and I were co-directors, with Neil White, of the 2010 and 2013 Creative Nonfiction Conferences in Oxford, Mississippi. We’ve remained close friends and I was thrilled to have her contribute an essay to A Second Blooming. “Pushing Up the Sun,” which I placed in the section titled, “Blooming After Loss,” is about the sudden death of Kathy’s husband, and her subsequent “blooming” as she worked through her grief.   Here’s more about Kathy and the workshop she will lead on Sunday morning during the retreat:

Kathy Rhodes is author of Remember the Dragonflies: A Memoir of Grief and Healing. Her essay “An Open Letter” appeared in The Best Creative Nonfiction, Volume 3, and was singled out for a review in The New Yorker. She is Senior Writer/Editor at TurnStyle Writers. Rhodes lives in Nashville, where she enjoys gardening, kayaking, and walking her cocker spaniel.

Pushing Up the Sun – As life happens and hurts come, you have a choice of sitting by and waiting for healing or standing up and helping healing come: pushing up the sun. The more light you let in, the brighter your world will be. This workshop will be about proactively working toward healing, surviving, and thriving. Writing down thoughts and feelings helps you make sense of your own personal story. We will do some journaling with prompts. Journaling gets whatever you’re dealing with out of your mind and onto the page. It’s a tool to new insights, new perspectives, and self-discovery.

ASB cover w PQ badgeAs I said in my previous posts, everyone who comes to the retreat will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (which I edited). There is housing at The Homestead Education Center, which is included with your registration, or rooms are available at a nearby hotel.

I can’t wait to hang out with all the interesting women who come to this retreat, and to share our hopes and inspirations for our “second bloomings”!

A Second Blooming Retreat Speakers: Part 3

I’m following up on an earlier post, in which I gave a link to information about the A Second Blooming Retreat this March 1-3 in Starkville, Mississippi, and in which I introduced one of the workshop leaders, Ellen Morris Prewitt. The retreat schedule is also in that post.

In the following post, I introduced another speaker, Nina Gaby.

Jennifer for ASB retreatToday I’d like you to meet my friend Jennifer Horne.

I met Jennifer in 2006 when she was on a panel at the Southern Festival of Books the last year it was held in Memphis. Her panel featured the anthology she had edited with Wendy Reed, All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. It was a life-changing day for me, because I also met Wendy, Cassandra King, Lee Smith, and Beth Ann Fennelly, who would all become mentors for me and my late-life writing career. The next time I saw Jennifer was in November of 2008, at the last Southern Writers Reading event in Fairhope, Alabama. I told Jennifer (and Wendy) how much All Out of Faith had meant to me, and they said they were putting together a sequel. I was honored to have an essay published in that sequel in 2012: Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality.

Fast forward to 2017 when A Second Blooming was published, with Jennifer’s wonderful essay, “The Second Half,” included in the collection. And then in 2018, my second anthology, Southern Writers on Writing, included another essay by Jennifer. As the current Poet Laureate of Alabama, Jennifer has much wisdom to share with us at this retreat. Here’s a little more about her and the workshop she will be leading on Saturday night:

Jennifer Horne is the Poet Laureate of Alabama, 2017-2021, and is a writer, editor, and teacher who explores Southern identity and experience, especially women’s, through prose, poetry, fiction, and anthologies and in classes and workshops around the South.

How Our Stories Shape Us – How we tell our own stories, and those of others, affects the meaning we make of them—narrative not only orders but influences our knowledge, memory, and sense of self. Likewise, our senses contribute to and often evoke our memory of story: fresh-cut grass, chalk and erasers, home-cooked food. In this workshop, we’ll play with group stories, help you reflect on your own story, and begin the process of constructing fresh narratives by drawing on sensory memories and revising interpretations of past events.

ASB cover w PQ badgeAs I said in my previous posts, everyone who comes to the retreat will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (which I edited). There is housing at The Homestead Education Center, which is included with your registration, or rooms are available at a nearby hotel. I can’t wait to hang out with all the interesting women who come to this retreat, and to share our hopes and inspirations for our “second bloomings”!

A Second Blooming Retreat Speakers, Part 2

Nina for ASB retreatI’m following up on my recent post, in which I gave a link to information about the A Second Blooming Retreat this March 1-3 in Starkville, Mississippi, and in which I introduced one of the workshop leaders, Ellen Morris Prewitt. The retreat schedule is also in that post. I’m going to continue here by introducing our second workshop leader, Nina Gaby.

I met Nina at the 2013 Creative Nonfiction Conference in Oxford, Mississippi, which I was helping direct, along with Kathy Rhodes and Neil White. I was instantly drawn to Nina’s beautiful soul, strong sense of self, and many talents. Here’s a bit more about her:

Nina Gaby is a visual artist, writer, and psychiatric nurse practitioner who has
worked with clay, words and people for five decades. She currently works in
mixed-media, focusing on single edition artist books which explore the
intersection of narrative and object.

Nina will be leading a hands-on workshop on Saturday afternoon during the retreat. Here’s a description of the workshop:

 
Little Altars Everywhere – In a time of deep grief I turned to making art again and developed a second wave to my creativity which continues to this day. The workshop will offer an opportunity to create a small assemblage to commemorate an object of focus, to secure a tableaux for a thought or a poem, to honor a grief, or to celebrate an idea. Some call them shrines, or altars, nichos or reliquaries. Three dimensional poems. Joseph Cornell called them shadowboxes.

ASB cover w PQ badgeCheck out Nina’s art work here.

As I said in my previous post, everyone who comes to the retreat will receive a copy of A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE (which I edited). There is housing at The Homestead Education Center, which is included with your registration, or rooms are available at a nearby hotel. I can’t wait to hang out with all the interesting women who come to this retreat, and to share our hopes and inspirations for our “second bloomings”!

A Second Blooming Retreat: Introducing the Speakers Part 1

ASB cover w PQ badgeI’m so honored to be invited to lead a women’s retreat at The Homestead Education Center in Starkville, Mississippi, March 1-3! All the information, including how to register, is here:

A Second Blooming Retreat

I met Alison Buehler, director of the Homestead and retreat organizer, at the Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Meridian, Mississippi, last July. What a smart, creative, energetic woman! After our meeting, she read the first anthology I edited, A SECOND BLOOMING: BECOMING THE WOMEN WE ARE MEANT TO BE, and contacted me about hosting a retreat around the book. (A Second Blooming was the February 2018 pick for the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs, and I enjoyed moderating a panel with several of the authors at the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in January of 2018 for this book.) Each retreat participant will receive a copy of the book, and Alison asked me to invite four of the 20 authors who contributed essays to the collection to lead workshops at the retreat.

ASB talk prep

 

On Friday night, March 1, I’ll be giving the keynote talk. It’s from 7:30-9:00 p.m., but don’t worry. I promise not to lecture for an hour and a half.  I’ve put together a short “workbook” for everyone to use with several short exercises. We will examine the first half of our lives and consider how we will “bloom” as we move forward into, or continue in, the second half. My session will be interactive, so hopefully it will keep everyone’s attention and warm us all up for the four amazing workshops on Saturday and Sunday. I’m going to introduce each of the workshop leaders here on my blog, one at a time. Today’s “bloomer” (that’s what I call the authors in A Second Blooming) is Ellen Morris Prewitt.

Ellen for ASB RetreatEllen Morris Prewitt is a writer who has explored group creativity in hundreds of workshops. She leads workshops based on her book Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God (Paraclete Press, 2009); for eight years she facilitated a weekly writing group of men and women experiencing homelessness, which culminated in their book, Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness (Triton Press, 2014). Her recent work is a novel, Tracking Happiness (June 2018). She splits her time between Memphis and New Orleans. Here’s a bit about the workshop she will be leading on Saturday morning:

The Joy of Creating in a Group Setting – Labeling ourselves as uncreative often holds us back from exploring new activities that call to our hearts (I know it does for me.) Turning to the comfort and support of a group can be really helpful. In this workshop, we will talk about the three basic elements of group creativity that make exploring new ventures—from shibori to chi walking to speech writing to launching a new website—fun. We’ll make a very simple book to both experience these elements and to produce a journal for our resulting creative thoughts.

Here’s the retreat schedule:

FRIDAY

3:00 – 5:30 REGISTRATION / GREETING / TEA / GETTING SETTLED IN

5:30 – 5:45 OPENING & ORIENTATION

5:45 – 7:00 DINNER AND RECIPE SWAP – Please bring 20 copies of a recipe that helps share your story.

7:00 – 7:30 INTRODUCTION OF PRESENTERS – Alison Buehler

7:30 – 9:00 A Second Blooming – Susan Cushman

10:00 QUIET TIME/LIGHTS OUT

SATURDAY

7:20 – 7:50 MORNING WALK or Gentle Yoga

8:00 – 9:00 BREAKFAST AND CLEAN-UP

9:00-11:00- Using Groups to Support Your Creativity – Ellen Morris Prewitt

11:30 – 2:00 Lunch and Break

2:00-4:00 – Little Altars Everywhere – Nina Gaby

5:00 – Dinner in Town

7:30 – 9:30 How Our Stories Shape Us – Jennifer Horne

10:00 Lights Out

SUNDAY

7:20 Morning Walk or Gentle Yoga

8:00 Breakfast

9:00 Pushing Up the Sun – Kathy Rhodes

10:30 Closing Celebration – Jeri Van Winkle Mangum

11:00 – 12: Clean Up and Departure

 

 

End of Year Book List for 2018

imageSo, last year I posted my book list, showing that I had read 44 books in 2017. Not sure what this says about me (I’m a slacker?) but in 2018 I only read 38 books—just over one book every two weeks. In comparing the two years, I can’t figure out how I read 18 fewer books this year than the previous, since in 2017 I published 3 books and traveled to over 40 events in 7 states for those books, whereas in 2018 I published 1 book and only traveled to about 25 events in 5 states. Where did my reading time go in 2018? A close examination of my life indicates that I probably spent those remaining reading hours watching television. Yes. I love to watch television. This might be unusual for a writer, but I grew up watching TV (starting in the mid 1950s when we got our first set) and didn’t become a reader until I was in my 50s! I wanted to be an actor before I wanted to be a writer, which explains a bit about my love for the screen.

In my (self) defense, I will say that in 2018 I WROTE another book—my linked short story collection FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY—so there’s that. (Pats self on the back.) And I organized my personal essay collection, PILGRIM INTERRUPTED, into sections and wrote the introduction. And I spent a good deal of time querying literary agents and independent presses for both of these books. (Pats self on the back. Again.)

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to notice the types of books I read each of these years:

2017: 23 fiction (all novels); 20 nonfiction (9 memoirs, 1 collection of micro-memoirs, 2 spiritual/religious, 2 psychology/self-help, 5 inspiration/essays, 1 art/history); and 1 poetry collection. 18 of those 44 books were by authors I know personally.

2018: 19 fiction (16 novels, 2 short story collections, 1 book of 4 novellas); 15 nonfiction (5 memoirs, 4 spiritual/religious/inspirational books, 3 essay collections, 1 oral biography, 2 psychology/self help);4 poetry collections. 24 of the 28 books I read in 2018 were by authors I know personally.

So, here’s my list of books read in 2018, actually in the order in which I read them. I’m taking a risk of hurting my friends’ feelings, since I know 23 of these authors, but I’m going to put an asterisk by my favorites. Please keep in mind how very subjective this is—certain topics and stories resonate with people who have shared experiences and interests—and not always an indication of how excellent the prose is, although in some cases that’s the reason for the asterisk. I will also add that I read the first 100 pages or so of THE FRIEND, winner of the National Book Award, but lost interest. Maybe it’s just because I’m not a dog person? As a writer, I wanted to see what it was about the book that won it such a prestigious award. Just didn’t get it. See how subjective this is? (NOTE: THE FRIEND did make the New York Time’s list of 100 Notable Books of 2018. So did 2 books I read and liked very much, IN PIECES by Sally Field and EDUCATED by Tara Westover.
What’s up next for me in 2019? Michelle Obama’s BECOMING, Patti Reagan Davis’s memoir about her father’s journey with Alzheimer’s, THE LONG GOODBYE, and THE LETTERS OF FLANNERY O’CONNOR AND CAROLINE GORDON, edited b y Christine Flanagan, are on top of my stack (which is huge!) . . . but I’ll be going to the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in January again, where I’ll visit with over 50 fellow authors and lots of prolific readers, so no telling how many books I’ll come home with!

Mourning DoveHappy reading in 2019! Please leave a comment here or on Facebook and tell me YOUR favorites books read in 2018! HAPPY NEW YEAR

Little Broken Things by Nicole Baart

Hunger by Roxane Gay

*Gradle Bird by J.C. Sasser (my review is here)

Spells & Oregano by Patricia V. Davis

Bead by Bead by Suzanne Henley (my review is here)

*Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton (my review is here)

My Exaggerated LifeThe Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life by Nicole Roccas (my post about this book is here)

*My Exaggerated Life: Pat Conroy as told to Katherine Clark (my Q & A with author Katherine Clark is here)

The Fighter by Michael Farris Smith

Mississippi by Ann Fisher-Wirth (poems) and Maude Schuyler Clay (photography)

*Confessions of a Christian Mystic by River Jordan

The Mutual UFO Network by Lee Martin (my review is here)

The MasterpieceIn Praise of Wasting Time by Alan Lightman

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Reading the Coffee Grounds and Other Stories by Niles Reddick (my review is here)

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Lewy Body Soldier by Norman McNamara

Tracking Happiness by Ellen Morris Prewitt (my review is here)

Our Prince of ScribesWhere the Creek Runs by Mary Abraham

*The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis (read my chat with Fiona Davis here)

Rush by Lisa Patton (read my interview with Lisa here)

*Our Prince of Scribes, edited by Nicole Seitz and Jonathan Haupt (my review here)

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

A Southern Season: Four Stories from a Front Porch Swing (incl. Claire Fullerton)

Becoming Mrs. Lewis*Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry

Becoming a Healing Presence by Albert S. Rossi

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott (a few words on this book here)

The Small Door of Your Death by Sheryl St. Germain

Navigating Disaster by Sheryl St. Germain (a few words about St. Germain here)

Madstones by Corey Mesler

*Congratulations, Who Are You Again? by Harrison Scott Key (my review here)Congratulations

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

*In Pieces by Sally Field (my review here)

*Educated by Tara Westover

Ya Yas in Bloom by Rebecca Wells

Next Year in Havana by Chanel CleetonEducated

In Pieces

My First You Tube Video (for #GivingTuesday)

MS Logo 300The good folks at the University Press of Mississippi, who published SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING, the anthology I edited, asked me for a video about the book so they could post it today, on “Giving Tuesday.”

YOU TUBE VIDEO of me talking about SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING.

And here’s the video the press put together which has me and several other UPM authors in it.

PLEASE consider donating to this wonderful literary press, to help them be able to continue publishing so many great books each year. Also consider giving copies of SOUTHERN WRITERS ON WRITING as Christmas gifts this year . . . perfect for anyone who:

(1) reads

(2) writes

(3) likes the South

(4) is curious about the South

There’s also a new review of the book up at the Alabama Writers’ Forum if you’d like to read more about it.

Happy #GivingTuesday everyone! Thanks for reading!

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