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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Real People

I like the writing advice that recommends having a real person in your view when creating a fictional one. Often I've pictured someone who might look like a character I'm fleshing out. Height, hair color, shape of his nose.Yes, I change the name, but often need the picture.

If I'm having a hard time imagining my character doing things that seem extraordinary? I remember a real-life person who could well have done that and Bingo! A Character emerges.

That's what happened with Gloriana June Hemphill, my protagonist in GLORY BE.

No, she is not me at 11. She's not my sister, or any of the 60s-era little girls I knew. We may have had glimmerings of Glory's personality. A tiny bit of rebellion inside us.

But we looked more like this. Goodie TwoShoes Choirgirls...
Than 60s activist.

 Every time my inner critic shouted No young white girl would have been that outspoken in 1964 Mississippi. Certainly no 11-year-old girl! -- I remembered one who would have been.

That little girl lived a few years later. She didn't live in Mississippi. But I know there were brave, spunky, outspoken girls-- even in the Deep South in the early 60s. And if Sarah had lived then, she would have been just like Glory. No matter what the year.

My more modern-day role model was a friend of my daughter's in Baltimore. We lived in a neighborhood of mostly-manicured, very green lawns. I bet Sarah wasn't even eleven when she decided she'd had enough of the strong chemicals some of our neighbors used on their grass. The little signs everybody posted cautioning Dogs and People to stay off the recently-sprayed grass offended her.

Her sign read:
"This lawn is safe for birds and other creatures."  Or maybe it was DOGS and other creatures. I think there was a stick-ish figure of a bird illustrating her sign. If you agreed to do away with the harsh fertilizers, you got one for your lawn. Quite a few of these hand-lettered signs attached to a Popsicle stick were planted around our neighborhood. That was just the beginning of her activism.

So when I needed someone in my head as a model for my own girl character, Sarah came to mind. No, she didn't look a thing like "my" Glory. But she acted quite a bit like I hope Glory would have behaved,  a decade later. Or even in 1964.

I'd love to know if others visualize characters as people they know while writing.
Do you combine personalities?
Use a real photograph?
Any great tips out there?

PS Today is Sarah's real birthday- Not July 4th, but pretty close to a holiday!
Happy birthday and thanks for the inspiration.   

Friday, December 28, 2012

Quote for the Day

"I have not failed. 
I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
--Thomas Alva Edison

Kind of the way I'm feeling about Chapter 16 this morning...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas to All

Since it's not quite time to say To All a Goodnight, I'm posting a few random  
Things I Love About the Holidays.

1. Toasting Pecans. At my house, it was always the Salt and Butter option. This morning, my friend Lee's fabulous food blog gave me another option.
My sister-in-law sent pecans. I'm on a hunt to find Lee's spice before the stores close. 
Check out her blog posts for pecans, cookies, gifts, and just fun reading.

Here's the Caramelized Spiced Pecans recipe. 
(Though Lee says you can use any type of nut, I love pecans for the holidays.)

2. KING LEO PEPPERMINT STICKS.  I almost hate to mention this because if you've forgotten about them and now you find them, then there's just that much more competition for me.
I'm on a hunt and I think I may have a lead. After I score some, I  will may share my secret.

3. FACEBOOK. There, I've said it. But I've found my college roommate whom I hadn't seen since we left each other in Mississippi in the 60s. And I learn a lot about books and their writers.
Plus, there's a group of insomniacs waiting to greet you at 3 AM, with Cheetos.
I both love FB and hate it.

Now, a huge stack of books awaits me. And those pecans needing toasting.
I'm off to read, write, eat, and enjoy the end of December.
I hope everyone's doing something special this week.
Merry Christmas, thanks for reading. See you in the New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Reading a Book

My thought for the day.

If you take a book with you on a journey… an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it… yes, books are like flypaper–memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.

{Cornelia Funke}
(This quote and many more like it may be found at )

Today, for many reasons, I'm remembering reading Les Misérables, for Mrs. Glassco's senior English class. My friend Ivy and I poured over the heavy book together after school in the basketball gym. 

I so hope I'm going to love the movie.

What book, for you, most recalls where it was read?  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Oxford Exchange

Last night at his book signing,  Michael Connelly said a lot of wise things 
about books and writing. 

Perhaps the wisest?

"The opening of a bookstore is a cause for celebration."

I couldn't agree more.

Tampa has a new, big, beautiful one.  Right now the Oxford Exchange feels more like a store than a bookstore, if that makes sense. But the books are right up front. The book buyer is very enthusiastic about hosting events.

AND I must applaud and share the Most Creative Use of a Card Catalog I've seen in a while.

 (front window of The Oxford Exchange, Kennedy Blvd, Tampa)

Drawers open to blank 3X5 cards and a pencil.

Check out the scribbled notes from readers recommending their favorite recent reads.

In answer to a question about whether the places in his books are real, Michael Connelly said he tries to anchor his fiction in as much reality as possible. Real restaurants, real streets. If readers identify with the place, this creates more empathy for the characters.

He cautioned future crime novelists about using a real restaurant as a murder scene however.
Not good for business.

Here he is, nearing the end of a very long line of admirers, waiting to have his newest book signed.
Check his website:
Some very cool stuff there. 

Good luck to the Oxford Exchange.
More pictures HERE:
Yes, it's a teashop, a coffee bar, a gift shop.
But there are books!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My Favorite Book Project

Last year, when my first novel was published, I traveled "home" to Mississippi. Thanks to Jill, my buddy at Square Books, Jr., I got to meet some amazing kids at schools in Oxford.

This is one of the best parts of being an author, I promise.

Seeing young readers celebrating your book is also pretty special.

Here's 4th grader Reagan, at her Della Davidson Book Fair this week.

At almost every single school visit and Skyping, readers (all ages!) ask how long it took me to write and/or to get my book published. When I say ten years, that sounds like forever to some of them.
But when you see your very first book appreciated like this, it makes that hard work so worthwhile. 

When I tell you Reagan won third place at her school's Book Project Fair last week, this is a huge accomplishment. I saw all the entrants on Square Book Jr's Facebook page (check the link, above, and go to the pictures page if you want to see some impressive readers). They were outstanding. So hats off and thank you to Reagan, and to her mom and to my niece, Amy, for sharing the pictures.

And because I can't resist, here's another of Reagan before the winners were announced. 
I think that's the letter Glory wrote. And that swimming pool looks three-dimensional!
Such great details.

Thank you, Reagan!

Related Posts: My Visit to Oxford, spring 2012.
Travels to Mississippi: Ten Things to Remember, including Pimento Cheese...

Friday, December 7, 2012

We have a winner!

SUSAN. You just won The Ballad of Jessie Pearl.
Enjoy and Pay it Forward if you are so inclined.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas (book) Shopping

Since I've been asked, I will share that the wonderful LEMURIA Books in Jackson has signed copies of GLORY BE.

Here's the website:

Or you can call my friend Emily, the children's book buyer, and she'll fix you up!
Lemuria Books
202 Banner Hall
4465 I-55 North
Jackson, MS 39206


(I'm also happy to send along a note and some bookmarks. Just send me an email or Facebook message and they are yours!)

Monday, December 3, 2012


I don't love college football like some I know. And maybe I'll watch an NFL game occasionally. But I grew up on high school football.

Not to get sidetracked, but my absolute favorite TV show was Friday Night Lights.

So I can't wait to hear about the team's victories in my sister's hometown of Batesville, Mississippi. This year, the SOUTH PANOLA HIGH SCHOOL TIGERS took their division. Again.
State Champs!

Here's the link to the Jackson Clarion Ledger article with a ton of pictures. I plan to hang on to this for future reference. You never know when you'll need a good football story.

My brother-in-law, George Carlson, loves the Tigers so much he returns to each game as one of the radio announcers.
Judge by day! Color Commentator by Friday nights!

So a big shout-out to soon-to-be-retired George as the Tigers end another winning season.
Here he is doing what he loves next-to-the-best. Grilling. He and his brother Chris are highlights of my culinary tour when I return to Mississippi.
(If you care, you can read a little more about the FOOD here.)

And just in case you read this blog to learn more about BOOKS and WRITING? Here's my writing advice for you. Everybody needs an expert. George was just that when it came to my character, Robbie, in Glory Be.
No, George was probably not anybody's Bad Boy Boyfriend. (Though I can't promise that's true.)
But he was always at the other end of my emails when I needed to know the technicalities of football practice in the heat of the summer in 1964 Mississippi. Talk about color commentating. George provided details. Thanks, Judge!

If you're still reading--and yes, this is a longer than average blogpost-- here's your reward for sticking with this entire Football treatise.
In case you ever doubted my authenticity about the high school football scenes in GLORY BE?
Besides George? I also had a college roommate was a majorette who twirled a Fire Baton.
More proof? Here's my Cleveland (MS) high school Pep Squad. We marched in every single Friday afternoon parade before our home games and on the field under the lights at each game.
Promise not to laugh.
And feel free to share your high school football stories. I'm keeping a file.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Shannon, Pt. 2

Okay, I know some of you can't see that entire interview from yesterday's blog,
so I'm reposting the questions and answers.

And this link to  
Shannon's blog with the family recipe for Chocolate Pound Cake!
Because who doesn't need Chocolate today? 

You can comment here or there and you'll be entered in the Giveaway for THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL. Rumor has it, Shannon will throw in a set of bookmarks for your class if you're a teacher, or as many as you might need for your Book Group or friends and family.

Augusta: In my past career as both a school librarian and a reference librarian in a public library, I was frequently asked to recommend books for Book Groups. I see this novel as a great choice for a Mother Daughter Book Club, or even a women's group.

Can you think of a couple of discussion questions those groups might focus on?

In the first line of the book, “Sometimes when the kerosene lamp casts shadows, I think I see Ma’s ghost,” we learn that Jessie’s mother is dead. How do Jessie’s memories of her ma influence her actions throughout the book? Do you see any similarities with the relationship you have with your own mother?

Great answer. Great quote, too.
How about " book food" they might serve! (Maybe not corn pone.) Do you have any family favorites to share?

Shannon: We Southerners love a good pound cake! Make mine chocolate.

Augusta: Yum! 
I know you have a curriculum guide and lots of teaching ideas. How do you see your book used in a classroom setting?

Shannon: I posed this question to Keely Hutton, an eighth grade ELA teacher, and she has a great answer: “With THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, you have the perfect opportunity to tie in non-fiction pieces about the time period, TB, women’s rights and roles in family/society, healthcare during epidemics, and historically what was happening during those years in the US and the world.”

Augusta: So many opportunities for classes who read your book. I know you'll be speaking to school groups. Describe your ideal class visit.

Shannon: Ideally the teacher and I would have worked together beforehand so that each student would have a family story to share. I would talk about how my son’s eighth grade history project inspired my book, about the 1920’s, rural North Carolina, tuberculosis etc., and give the students a chance to share their family stories with me.

Augusta: I think that story about your son's class project is pretty remarkable.

I loved how strongly you portrayed the characters. You write with such emotion and it shows in how they react to situations. For writers, do you have any tips about getting to that emotional depth?

Shannon: Don’t overwrite. Trust your readers “to get it.” I have the tendency to overdo it and my brilliant editor, Stephen Roxburgh, reminds me that less is more.

Augusta: There are a lot of us who could use a needlepoint of that thought!
If you were Book Talking this book, as school librarians often do, what would be the 1-minute take on Jessie Pearl?

Shannon: THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL is about the terror of tuberculosis, the thrill of young love, and a desire to see the world beyond your own hometown.

Augusta: What were your favorite books to read in middle and high school? Do you think those books influenced you to be a writer?

Shannon: Oh my yes! I loved the Little House on the Prairie books and HEIDI GROWS UP. The villainess, Liza Phillips, in my book is based on the two characters I loved to hate when I was younger: Nellie Olson from the Little House books and Liza Colby from the now defunct soap opera All My Children. When I was growing up, I watched soap operas with my granny. Honey, I told you I am Southern!

Augusta: So did I! She called them "my stories." We were particularly fond of As The World Turns.

When you were writing the novel, did you have a reader in mind?

Shannon: Not really. I wrote a book that I would enjoy reading. I’d like to be the Jan Karon or Lisa Wingate of YA literature.

Augusta: Who is your ideal reader? Teen girls, their moms, middle-graders, literary types? A younger version of yourself? All of the above?

Shannon: I don’t have an ideal reader. Anybody who enjoys my book is a newfound friend.

So true! Thanks for those great answers, Shannon. 
You can check out Shannon's website for more information:
Now it's your turn, blog readers. Just leave me a comment and you, too, could read this remarkable book.

Let's keep this going until December 7. That way, you'll have time to read it and still wrap it up for holiday giving. Though you will probably want to keep this forever and buy more for gifts! 
It's that good.