Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Southern Living and Southern Talking

I don't usually pay much attention to the magazine, true confessions, but this month's "Southern Journal" essay in Southern Living really struck a chord with me. I so totally think Hollywood needs to pay attention. Much as I love The Closer, Kyra Sedgewick and her Thank you so mu-uch and those endless Lew-ten-unts is beginning to wear thin.

And don't people realize there's a difference between the way people in New Orleans and people in Nashville talk? If you've lived in Mississippi, you even know there's a speech variation between Deltans and Coast residents. I know Hollywood (and literature!) can't always re-create such nuances, but please- surely they can figure out something better than stupid Yankees mimicking dumb Southerners.

And while I'm ranting, there's nothing worse than bad Southern speech in books-- dare I say especially kids' books-- Nah, it's any book that crosses that line.

Maybe it's not possible to distinguish between regions in kids' books. (Although, when it counts, a few good writers do manage to get the flavor of certain sections of the country just fine, better than fine- perfect: Thank you very much, Kerry, Barbara, Kimberley, Phyllis- to name a few.)

So I know you do not have to be completely idiotic about it. I mean do all Southerners really sound like they're saying SHOULDA and COULDA all the time? Not to mention writing every other sentence with a dropped final G.

Enough already!

OK, now I got that off my chest. I can get back to work.

If you're interested in a much more articulate rant than mine, pick up the September issue of Southern Living and read Amy Bickers' backpage essay. Or you can click here and read it.
And if you'd like to read something I wrote for the Southern Writers' Blog, way back when I first started over there, on a related topic, click here for South Speak. You can leave me a comment about your favorite Southern expressions and words. And those we'd just never, ever use. Or at least we'd never mispronounce.

I hope Kyra's listening.

Friday, August 27, 2010

National Dog Day!

OK, I was away from my computer and missed it! Drat. But it's not too late to read a funny funny post about kids' writers and their true-life dogs. Plus some dogs they write about.
Click right here.

Come to think about it, we were out to dinner on the night before this momentous Dog Day and the quite classy restaurant was featuring Bring Your Doggie To Dinner night. Tasty treats on the menu and funny dogs of all shapes and sizes.

And while you're clicking, here's a post from a while back, featuring dogs in fiction and my own special sweet dogs (with pictures!).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Memoir Writing

Ever think you'd like to try your hand?
Here's a post with some really good links to writing advice.
And if you don't feel like wading through them all, start here: with Jane Friedman's advice.

I was about to pick one of hers to illustrate, but there are way too many.

(FYI, I will never, repeat NEVER, write a memoir, but I have a whole host of writing friends who might, and could, and should, so this if for you, folks. I prefer just turning all our life stories into fiction anyhow...)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Just last week, esteemed writing coach Leslie Guccione called me on a grammar thing. OK, not really incorrect grammar, but a stylistic error. She pointed out something that marked me as unsophisticated, in a writerly way. Me? No!

She didn't really say it that way, but I'd asked for her help and Leslie is nothing if not honest in her critiques. She was part of my original writing group, along with a small group of other fabulous writers. Recently, a few of us reconvened online and I'd submitted an essay for their consideration. In other words, I should have known better. I asked for it.

I'd committed a mistake the writers of SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS: How to Edit Yourself Into Print address in Chapter 11 of the second edition of this book--Mistakes they claim show a lack of "Sophistication." And by the way, it's not just a book for fiction writers.

Here's what Leslie pointed out to me, chapter and verse:
"One easy way to make your writing seem more sophisticated is to avoid two stylistic constructions that are common to hack writers," namely:

Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him.
As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.

Nothing my fabulous high school English teachers would object to enough to bring out the red pencil. BUT both examples take a bit of the action and tuck it away into a dependent clause. According to Self-Editing, this makes some of the action seem unimportant.

You also need to beware the -ing and the as thing if it gives "rise to physical impossibilities."

While an occasional use won't wreck your writing, in a 700-word essay (such as what I asked Leslie to critique for me so of course it glared at her when I did that -ing thing...), too many of these constructions will soon jump right off your page. And not in a good way.

An oldie but a goodie, this book. Better yet, call it a classic. My copy was dusty and buried on the shelf, only occasionally opened since I first embarked on this writing thing ten years ago. I knew how to write back then, but Leslie and the rest of the critique group pushed me to improve. Books like SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS showed me the way. Great book. I'll remember some of the fiction tips as I slog my way through early drafts of my new project.

(Note to self: when introducing new characters, include physical descriptions with concrete, idiomatic details. Chapter 2: Characterization and Exposition.)

Now back to work.

For related posts on craft, search Writing Tips in the search box, or click here or here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Blogging after Resting and Rejuvenating?

Having been away from my computer for a few days, I'm back, and in keeping with my turning over a new, streamlined leaf this week, I cleaned up my blog look a tad. The book background was beginning to show up everywhere, so I reverted to my previous blog look.

Did anybody notice?

Also contemplating these two quotes swiped from Darcy Pattison's blog:

The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork (including writing) is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. —
David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

Before the gates of excellence, the gods have placed sweat. –
Katherine Paterson

(I've always loved that one from Katherine Paterson.)

Darcy titled her blog post Never Quit. To that I say, Amen...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Eat Pray Love

No, this isn't going to be a blog about the book, really, or about the movie, which I haven't seen yet.

But today's Story Fix blog had some interesting things to say about why MEMOIR also needs structure. Click on over there if you've ever pondered writing anything other than fiction. His ongoing postings about the plotting of fiction are very easy to understand... after I've read them a few times.

His posts about story are well worth the effort, however. Since I'm once again struggling to structure a plot. If only I had my teacher Joyce sitting next to me with her red pencil...

Related post: Save the Cat

Sunday, August 15, 2010


If those words don't ring a bell and you'd like to know more about writing for children, you are missing a big piece of the puzzle. SCBWI= Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Each August they hold their national conference in Los Angeles. In the dead of winter, it's in NYC. Each region has terrific events also. This winter in Orlando, the Florida group will gather. (Now you know you'd rather be in Florida in the dead of winter, right?)

Here's a sample of what went on in L.A. this month, notes from a workshop about writing middle grade novels, by Newbery Award winner Linda Sue Park.

And here's a quote from that writer. I've seen it floating around cyberspace, in one form or another. Since I wasn't at the conference and I can't verify which version she actually said. I give you this one for your consideration:

The great mission of middle grade novels is to show young people that the world isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean it has to be miserable.

I'm still thinking on that one. There's a lot of wisdom in some of what Park says about writing, so click on over to that blog link up there and check it out.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Eternal Ones

I was sent The Eternal Ones by the book's publicist. She knew of my interest in stories written by Southerners, or about the South, or maybe she thought I'd be intrigued with the whole Past Lives thing. Since I'm not, I put the book aside. Then, as often happens, I found myself in a place with no books. That cannot happen to me. (Maybe I'd be a great candidate for a Kindle or a Nook or maybe even the IPad my husband hogs. I'd be downloading left and right, probably to the extreme...But for now, I'll stick with my paper. I still prefer the feel of real paper, but that's another topic.)

In desperation, I will read ancient yellowing magazines if there's no promising book nearby.

So I had this ARC (advance reading copy) in my suitcase. Young Adult fiction. About a topic I haven't considered since I was quite young and there was a big brouhaha about The Search for Bridey Murphy. Remember her? Well, that was my exposure to past lives. All the big kids and my mom's bridge group talked about it and it gave me the creeps.

Did I mention I was desperate for something to read?

I never expected to like this book. In fact, I kept trying not to finish it, to set it aside. But it's a moderately well-told story that's new and fresh. A daring teen so convinced she's lived and loved many times before that she leaves her family and takes off to live in New York. A gay guy who is totally not stereotyped. Snake-handling Pentecostals who are tremendously appealing.

I predict that this is going to be a huge hit with teen readers. I also predict a very strong crossover market into adult fiction. In fact, the official link to the book is supposed to be very intriguing, but I can't ever get on it, so I'm not sharing here so as to save you the frustration. From what I understand, if you get there, you can post your own past life experiences.

I have none nor do I anticipate any. But still sometimes it pays to be forced to read something you don't think you are going to like. Horizons are broadened. If you know a teen reader who's intrigued with the paranormal, this might be the book!

Here's a Publisher's Weekly interview with the author: Q & A with Kirsten Miller.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Teachers, Start Your Engines!

All over the South, kids are back in school already. Up here in the Northeast, where I'll be for another month or so, Labor Day is the target date for giving up our summers. Until I left the South, I had no clue what Labor Day even was. As my daddy used to say (OK, maybe he used a tad more colorful language):
"Farmers and farm animals don't care about Daylight Savings Time or Labor Day Weekend."

How true.

But I've digressed enough. It is time to prepare for school. So whether you are the teacher, the student or the parent, there's plenty to think about. Let books be way up there on the list, please.

Did you get your summer reading done? Did you stock your classroom full of books? And parents, how about donating a book to your library in honor of a family birthday, or just plain giving books as gifts, all around.

This month, I'll be catching up on a few books I've saved to review. Fall is a big time for publishers to send a whole bunch of new kids' books into the world. Stay tuned.

If you're reading this and you are a teacher getting your room ready, organizing class lists, etc., you owe it to yourself to read this amazing post. One teacher's take on what NOT to do at the beginning of the school year. Very thought-provoking.

And while I'm at it, I may as well steal the quote she has on her blog.

“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or a duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift."
Kate DiCamillo

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


On the recommendation of a friend, I picked up Les Edgerton's small book at my local library.

HOOKED: Write Fiction that Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go (Its cover looks disconcertingly like one of my favorite kids' novels in recent history) has a lot going on inside. And last week, it also had a bargain price offer on the Writers Digest site.

The subtitle says a lot, so I won't even try to elaborate. But there are a lot of things to take away from this book. A few, in no particular order:

1. An overview about opening scenes and what's important included this reminder-
"Take time to craft not only the first sentence, but the rest of the opening...For gosh sakes, don't pair adjectives in an attempt to make the description more powerful. The rule of thumb with adjectives is that with each additional one, the power is halved, not doubled..."

2.The chapter on characters suggests "beginning with an out-of-the-ordinary character... can instantly pique the reader's interest."
(My question- is this a good plan for kids' novels? Or should we soundly establish the point-of-view character first?)

3. "A great first line buys you a lot of points" with editors and agents.
But we all know that, don't we...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Writing About the Sixties

Why do you think the 60s are ripe for fictionalization? What is it about that amazing time?

Not that I'm complaining. I first had my smidgen of an idea for a story that would take place during Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964, almost 10 years ago in a Writing for Children class at The New School. I didn't know whether the time period was intriguing to kids, I just knew I had to tell that particular story. Now, all these years later, my novel is on the verge of publication. Amazing to me.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend I grew up with about our childhoods, marveling at the lives we lived and the interest shown in them now. Kids' books, literary fiction, movies, Mad Men. The Help has spent over 60 weeks near the top of the best seller list. Secret Life of Bees? A terrific crossover novel and a not-half-bad movie.

And just released this May is Minrose Gwin's The Queen of Palmyra, a darker, more complicated and considerably more literary, amazingly told story of a time in our history some would just as soon forget.

The setting? A small Southern town where neighbors tend to help each other out. Share coffee on the front porch. Bring casseroles for births, funerals and most everything in between. At least on the outside, everyone’s happy. Well, maybe not 11-year-old Florence Forrest's family, who’d just as soon the neighbors do their meddling on their own side of the fence.

And if anybody needed a casserole, the Forrests do. They are falling apart. Florence's father has failed at yet another job, and her mother, Martha, insists they return to the family’s hometown where Martha’s cake business will support them. Florence’s grandmother seems sympathetic to the young girl’s plight—her raggedy, outgrown summer shirts and shorts and inability to place the states properly on a map. But despite her love for the child, the grandmother is limited by her relationship with her shiftless son-in-law.

So young Florence’s care is mostly given over to the grandparents’ long-time maid. Over six feet tall with bad veins and legs that pain her, Zenie, named for Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, agrees to take on Florence for the summer. She’ll “try it out. See how much trouble she get into.” Mostly she ignores the girl. Then Eva, college-educated and filled with ideas, moves in with her Aunt Zenie and turns the Black community— and young Florence’s life— upside down.

A powerful sense that all is not right with the world starts in chapter one as the young narrator looks out on the children off to school. With their shirts "tucked into their pleated skirts," they carry their books and "little lunch boxes and satchels. Watching this parade of regular children on their way to school, I feel like a dead girl looking down from heaven on the trickles of the life she is missing out on."

That's the voice of one strong narrator, telling a powerful story. I liked this novel from the beginning. I loved it even more when I read it the second time.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me put it out there right now. I know Minrose Gwin. But when I was sent this book by the publicist, I had no clue that my life and that of the writer had intersected. In fact, I don't normally review books by friends, unless I truly love them so much that I can't help it. But we were friends in our early college days in Mississippi, until we were 19 and departed that women's college. We had different names back then. Many years have passed. I had no idea.

Plus, I loved the book.

And then I discovered serendipitously, that Ms. Gwin is now an English professor at my alma mater, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So not only am I proud of this book as an alum and as a former, almost-childhood friend rediscovered, I'm just plain delighted that it's such a good book. And that it has added to the discussion of life in the turbulent 60s.

For an interview with the author, click here.

For Minrose Gwin’s website, with appearances and signings listed for the summer and fall, click here.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Em Dashes-- All you ever wanted to know.

For those of us raised in the world of proper English grammar and punctuation, where formal writing eschewed things like hastily struck lines to break up phrases, the dash thing can be confusing. However, I've never been a big fan of the semi-colon, and I now embrace dashes of all stripes--- em, en, and the plain old hyphen.

But don't trust me on this. Cheryl Klein, world famous editor extraordinaire, tells it all on this blogpost.

Related post: Cheryl Klein on commas

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Quotes of the Day...

Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it. - Jesse Stuart

And along those same lines...

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. - Dr. Seuss

Monday, August 2, 2010


Today, the mail was worth walking to the mailbox for. Two surprises!

My magic bean from Joyce Sweeney. A very, very special honor. Yes, indeed, I am in good company! Thanks, Joyce, for everything. I will plant my bean on my bookshelf, next to my handmade book made by my friend Leslie, the shell with a Eudora Welty quote beautifully written on it (also from Leslie), and my birthday card with the picture of Elvis's Tupelo house. (No need to say who made that one!)

Here's my bean. Outside enjoying the fresh air and the Black-eyed Susans. Now safely on my collections shelf.

And then, a truly unique, perfect beyond words, congratulatory/ birthday gift from my college friend. I've consulted with Patty-- and a whole bunch of others-- on my story off and on for eight years. I've asked what it was like growing up in North Carolina during the 1960s. I reached out to my friend Beverly about being a true PK in small town Mississippi (that's Preacher's Kid, for the uninitiated). And more emails than they'd care to remember to my sister and brother-in-law about playing football in the South and other questions so arcane that they were un-googleable. Googliable? Unable to google.

So a big thanks to all of you out there at the other end of my questions.

And a huge thanks to Patty for this most appropriate gift. In more ways than are obvious, it made me smile with delight.

Yes, Home is certainly where my story began...