Book People – My First Experience as the AUTHOR at a Book Club Meeting

Book People—teachers, librarians, book club attenders, just simply people who love to READ—are the most wonderful people on earth.


Tonight was my first experience as the “guest of honor” for a book club. Invited by Gail Satterfield, fellow teacher at Calhoun High School a few years back and knowing it would be held at the home of Dr. Bob Linn, I “assumed” this was an impromptu meeting of English teachers who’d retired but still yearned for papers to grade. Other than a slight worry over being in the presence of those might chastise my love of passive verbs, I’d looked forward to the occasion, anxious to see old friends and talk with people who’d actually READ my book.


Finding the address, where cars were parked halfway down the street, I first thought I was mistaken. 


“Surely all these people aren’t here to see ME,” I said aloud to no one. But I was wrong, on so many levels.


Dr. Linn and I taught in the same school for his last few years before his retiring, and his wife, Lee, taught my daughter Meredith in kindergarten, so many years ago. I had heard through teacher’s lounge voices that Dr. Linn had been a personal friend of folk artist Rev. Howard Finster and had in fact brought him to classes for lectures and q&a. I would not have been surprised to see a painting or two in the Linn’s home, yet I was not expecting a virtual museum of folk art!


Stepping inside, I totally forgot why I was there and, after asking permission, began to walk all over the house snapping photos of all the amazing art on the walls, on shelves, even serving as tables and chairs. Lee walked beside me, explaining where many of the pieces were made and for what occasion, where others were collected, how others (such as several artsy caricatures of Dr. Linn himself!) were either commissioned or given as gifts. I had no idea I was in for such a treat.


I saw several old friends and was introduced to many readers I’d never met—including local clergymen as well as Georgia author/mystery writer Mignon Ballard of the “Miss Dimple” series! What would I say to these people? Why had I not prepared a speech, or brought visual aids, or—why had I not realized this was really a BIG DEAL?


Even the food was served with an artsy flair—sandwiches rolled as fingers with almond nails and dribbles of “blood” sat beside fresh dips, cheeses, meatballs, and a variety of sweets. I poured a healthy helping of fruit-filled sangria into a cup, hoping to arouse my courage to try and sound halfway intelligent in this sanctuary of creativity.  I felt so honored to be there, yet so unworthy.  What could I say or do that might keep me from being “a colossal mistake” to be discussed and laughed at in their next meeting? 


Plates were filled and the crowd gathered in the Linn’s cozy den. After a few jokes about the possibility of my offering a “song and dance” (many of them knew me as a director of choirs and dramatic musicals) they began to ask questions—interesting, thought-provoking questions that I not only COULD answer but also LOVED to answer:


  • Obvious ones about the setting and the part of Georgia where I grew up
  • Which character(s) are based on reality
  • Which sections required the most research
  • Did I know anyone with a “hook” for an arm
  • Differences in the terms “farm” and “plantation”
  • Had I lived in the area during flood times? How did this affect my writing?
  • What was my beef with The Little White House
  • Did bias from my former school employment help with my treatment of the schools featured in the story
  • Did I KNOW how things would turn out before I wrote it all down
  • How did I find an agent/publisher
  • How many drafts did this take
  • How much of my original story was cut in the end
  • Which was the most challenging section to write/why
  • What did I as a writer WANT readers to take with them from this story


The questions went on for more than an hour; some were easy, while others posed ideas I’d never considered before. They laughed, and listened, and made me feel like my words were a tasty treat-like meal—I can honestly say I have never felt that way while speaking aloud before. 


“I’m a lot better on paper than I am in person,” I’ve said so many times, and I believe it to be so.  Yet tonight I felt pretty good about being “live and unplugged,” and that’s something new for me.


Looking back now, I remember sort of semi-rehearsing in the car, imagining what people would ask and how I would answer, steering into ideas I’m more comfortable talking about: My favorite authors, what I’m reading now, well-loved but pre-planned ideas like southern sense of place, there’s only one Harper Lee/William Faulkner/Lee Smith, or five-days-‘til-release-of-the-new-Pat Conroy book. 


These people were SHARP—I never even got NEAR any of those topics, and I didn’t notice or care at the time.


Time flew, and one person asked if I could read something before time to go. My take-to-signings copy is dog-eared with things to read aloud for perspective readers, but I wasn’t sure about what to read here.


“Read YOUR favorite passage,” someone said, so I did—a section I had not read from since the official “graduate reading” for my MFA.


A poignant portrayal of a southern funeral, the words seemed even more meaningful as I read them tonight. In the final draft of my book, an editor had wanted me to shorten or even delete this particularly tear-jerky section, yet it was one area in which I totally stood my ground. Sure it was repetitive, and drawn out, and a little too descriptive; I didn’t care. It was my favorite two pages and I wasn’t changing a word. Eventually, I wore her down.  Secretly, I always wondered if maybe she was right—she WAS an editor and all. Maybe people WOULD skip over it.


Tonight, as I read those words, it was like remembering childbirth—you only remember the wonder of it all, and it’s like touching the hand of God all over again.  I did this.  This is mine. I matter—because of this.


We’d been talking and laughing all night, but for those few minutes, the room became dead still. Every eye was on me, they were all listening so intensely that I could the see picture I described in the reflections of their eyes.


I stopped and made a joke about the origin of one sentence, thinking I needed to break the ice for some reason. They smiled, but I felt the “teacher’s glare” that tells us to get serious and stop being the class clown.  I did.


I felt myself slowing down, then building momentum, speaking in the character’s voice that I knew was dead-on though I hadn’t planned to deliver my reading this way.  I didn’t hesitate to pause as long as necessary, or to raise my voice, or to slow down to a mumbling whisper.


I reached the end, where the preacher declared “Amen” and the crowd of mourners followed.


The room was still silent. 


And then they cheered.


I never expected to feel so wonderful.


Tonight I say thank you to this wonderful group of readers, and to readers everywhere who continue to honor me with your thoughts on A Southern Place.


I’m probably NOT worthy, but I sure do love it….



Post Script

I also know Bob and Lee Linn from their collection of hard to find, out of print, used and rare books and ephemera. I have loved browsing their collections at book festivals for years, and had planned to take a peak upstairs tonight, but—I left on cloud nine and totally forgot.  Please visit their website at

Liberating ME…


I was a bit depressed yesterday/today, so did what works best for such occasions: I reread (for maybe the 20th time or more) Linda Bloodworth Thomason’s Liberating Paris.

There are many, many books I reread on a regular basis, so this is not the only one. Some are classics that make me feel part of some special club for doing so – nearly all the Pat Conroy, Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton books, the obvious givens like To Kill A Mockingbird and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the one-best of Faulkner, Larry Brown, and others.  This book, though southern in nature, is not really in the same class with the others, after all, it’s written by a television writer. Though I guess I may have read it more than any of the others (exception: The Water Is Wide, which I reread the week before school started for 28 years of teaching!) yet it’s been hard for me to brag about how wonderful it is in an open forum. There are no reprints in college lit texts or The Oxford American. There are no cliff note-like pamphlets with titles like “Understanding Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. None of her characters are used as icons for modern day Shakespearean characters. But I’m ready to admit it: It looks like this may be the Bible of southern novels for ME.

Yes, I love Designing Women, Thomason’s television claim-to-fame, and was tickled pink when, during it’s heyday on Primetime, friends in three separate states told me Mary Jo’s personality reminded them of ME. But Paris is MORE than Designing Women in that its intensity, its real-life situations, its uniquely flawed characters make what she refers to as this “Wagnerian hillbilly nightmare” that perpetrates my brain a have a beauty and literary worth that stand both alone and with all those classics I dearly love.   

I can say it now, and apologize for “going all-Elizabeth-Barrett-Browning on ya” as Thomason’s Earl Brundage would say. Rereading this book makes me whole again, though I must be pretty Humpty-Dumpty-like to read it so often. We all “can’t help feeling a little let down–like men who once walked on the moon and are now stuck in traffic.”  And if we’re lucky enough to find a formula that works, we should use it. And I will. 

That’s about all I have to say on this strange and underrated subject.  Anyone else out there have a thought to share on this amazing gem of a book? I’d love to hear (though if you just wanna dis, I’ll probably do the southernly polite thing and ignore you.)

This is my favorite book, and I don’t care who knows it.  It’s kind of liberating, just to finally say it for the world to hear. 

 At a pivotal moment, Thomason explains such an idea with heartfelt simplicity.  

” …Yes. I support this. This is who I am…[and I] wanted, finally and gloriously, to be known.”

Enough said.  Your turn?

It’s finally happening—-I think???


I started this blog two years ago when I felt the very idea of me having a blog was totally worthless. My book, though technically “finished” was being rewritten every few months, hoping with each new edition that ONE such copy would draw the attention of an agent; one who was NOT sending out form letters informing authors that he/she was  “accepting no material of this style/genre/whatever at this time.”

February 2012, thanks to a workshop sponsored by Atlanta Writers Club, I found an agent who WANTED me.  I signed a contract and began to do what she told me—change this, edit this, add that.  That took a few months, then she began to solicit publishers. Things got quiet, and it seemed to be back to the land of rejection again. A few months more, and a PUBLISHER wanted me.


November 2012—I signed a contract, then began to do what they told me—change this, edit this, cut this.  Change this, cut this.  Reword this—and this—and this. Then do the same kind of thing with Editor # 2, who was even more meticulous, and Editor #3. Change titles. Change cover. Proof again.  And again.  And again.


April 2013. Suddenly—I have a release date—August 6th.  The last proofs are in, so I have time to labor my “book promotion checklist.” I have approximately 4 months to plan a book launch, a blog tour, solicit blurbs and reviews, plan/order promo materials and “swag,” maybe even create a book trailer. “I can do this!” I say to myself, spending to 4 to 6 hours a day online, trying to stay organized and get everything in shape.  “You can only have one FIRST book, so do it RIGHT” I remember someone saying, and I swear that I will.  I go to Office Depot and print out spiral bound copies. I write letters, I beg for blurbs.  I order bookmarks, take them to conferences, and maybe by the last day I’ll have the nerve to actually GIVE THEM to someone.  I change my profile pic and screen saver to my book cover. I meet with other authors—online, at booksignings, and stalking them any way I find possible. I post my book cover, these meetings, my LIFE— all over Facebook, then individually send it to every I know—on the face of the earth! I sign up for conferences, reserve an expensive booth at a huge book festival, keep finding more and more stuff on this list that I missed the first, or second, or third times—–


It’s July 1st

My book was received by those who ordered from Amazon TODAY. By 10 am I have texts, emails, and facebook messages with pictures of it—yet I don’t have one. My publisher says my author’s copies should be here “by the end of the week, or middle of next week at the latest, with the holiday factor.” I order one from this morning—I simply HAVE to hold it in my hand before then. I had set a date for a launch party—August 15th.  I try to call the Arts Council (who was hosting the launch) back and move up the date—but they’re closed all week due to the holiday. What about those people who were planning my blog tour—do I call them and try to push up THOSE dates as well, or leave as is, or—will they be gone all week, too? I can’t do that one on my own, I’m not even sure I understand what a “blog tour” IS yet—-I’m doing Barnes & Noble at the Mall of Georgia with 3 other authors—-what if NO ONE comes to see ME? Will they call up all the other Barnes & Noble stores in THE WORLD and tell them I’m a loser?  I need to call libraries—should I start in South Georgia, the setting of the book or North Georgia, where I live? Can I DO THIS in just over a month? How did this happen?  Is it fate? Should I just give up NOW or———- —this is so confusing!



I have not always lived here, in fact we came to north Georgia (Dalton) in 1988.  Before a three-year stint in Macon, where my husband went to law school, we came from south Georgia, below Albany. 

My husband sent himself through undergraduate school by working in a factory—Albany’s Firestone plant.  Firestone, along with Proctor & Gamble and later Miller made Albany a pretty progressive town for rural south Georgia, at least we thought.  He worked third shift in a building so big that supervisors rode bicycles within the plant.  He was a tire builder, the most strenuous job there, but he was young and healthy and made $10 an hour when he “made production,” and once he was “beating production” he built up to $14.95 —this was PRIME bucks in the mid 70’s.  

He told tales of how they loved it when a machine broke down; supervisors made them all stop until the machine could be fixed, putting them down to the minimum the union would let them collect, but keeping them safe from accidents.  It was fun to sit around and do nothing occasionally, and he’d make it up later.  As jobs went, he said, this one was as decent as any, and the pay was actually good.  He didn’t want to STAY in factory work, but working there made him feel good about the blue-collar world.  People worked hard and were compensated for what they did.  The benefits were good.  A man could support his family and not have to live hand to mouth, the way his father’s jobs had been after he left the military.

When we first moved to Dalton, Walmart, Kmart, and Kroger never ceased to amaze me: I had never in my life seen so many physically disabled people.  Men in overalls with one shirtsleeve pinned together and empty.  Lots of crutches.  Men and women with missing arms, missing digits, and who “walked” like the elderly but were barely graying at the temples. 

“What HAPPENED to all these people?” I asked on our first such trip.

“What DIDN’T happen was unions,” my husband said, and he told me what he had learned in the short time we had been in north Georgia.

“I heard older guys talk about it when I worked at Firestone,” he said, “but I never really believed it.  They talked about the days before the union, when the longer you stayed, the more chance you had of looking like a war victim.  I thought they were just talking, you know, like ‘fish stories,” exaggerating the way we all will when swapping tales.  But the cases they’ve given me, at the office, since we moved here—I can see now those stories were really true.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I just got out of law school, and there are eleven other attorneys above me, so I pretty much get the ‘shit cases’ that no one else wants.  But I’m okay with it—hell, I’m just happy to be here, ‘til I read about people like THEM.” He nodded his head to indicate the line of sad, rejected people sitting on the lone bench outside Kmart.

I tried to smile, knowing he was about to tell me something that really bothered him.

“What is it you found out?” I asked when we reached the car.

“Those people, or most people like them you see around here, are the results of having no unions in the carpet industry,” he said. 

“Isn’t that like ILLEGAL?” I asked.  (I was even more ignorant back then than now.)

“Apparently not.  The people of north Georgia CHOSE to keep the unions out.  It assured the drawing of bigger industry and more jobs for the working man.” 

“At the risking of HURTING the working man, and woman, like THIS?” I was appalled.

“I guess so,” he said.

We were pretty quiet for the rest of the ride home.  The whole idea was just too astounding to do much of anything but ponder it alone.

This was Dalton, 1988.  Coming from middle and south Georgia, I’d already questioned the legality of the way things were done.  In the school where I’d just started teaching, I couldn’t believe there were no African American administrators and teachers during preplanning.  Then school began and there were no lunchroom workers, custodians, bus drivers, or STUDENTS either.  When I got up the nerve to ask about it, I was told simply “they don’t live here” and looked at as though I was retarded.  I had a lot to learn about Dalton.

Five years later, we had settled in Calhoun, when the next question about area unions reared its ugly head.  Again, it came with a “work story” my husband brought home.

“I’ve got the saddest worker’s comp case I’ve ever seen,” he said.  “It’s made me reexamine everything I think, believe, feel about family.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, not following at all from such an abrupt beginning.

“Got a client who lost two fingers, two separate times, and they wanna call him on it,” he explained.

“What?” I was more confused now than before.

“He lost his pinky finger in a machine, little over a year ago,” he said.  “The plant paid his medical bills and compensated him for the loss.  He’s a good worker, and was back on the job in a week.” 

“Then he lost ANOTHER?” I asked.

“Yeah.  Almost a year to the day.  This time the one next to it, ring finger, again on his left hand.  Paid his initial meds, then when he came back to work, he’d been fired.  They say he did it on purpose.”

“That’s absurd!” I said. “Who would stick their hand in a machine, ON PURPOSE, knowing they would come away with a digit less—or worse?  They’re crazy!”

“Truth is,” he said sadly, “he probably did it.”  He didn’t sound surprised, or outraged, or even slightly disgusted—only sad.

“You don’t mean to tell me that you BELIEVE your client did this, do you?  You’re as bad as the factory people!” I said.

“Seriously,” he said, “I don’t KNOW one way or another, and I’m not sure I want to know.  The fact is, he lost a finger a year ago.  As soon as he received his compensation check, he sent a lump sum to Guatemala, and soon thereafter his brother was living with him.  Here in the states he has a wife and a baby, but back home he still has a father and two younger siblings.  Their country is at war, and—-let’s just say living conditions at the animal shelter HERE might be better.  He and his wife are legally here and they managed to bring the brother legally as well, but…”

“You’re telling me he CUT OFF A FINGER to bring his brother here?  REALLY?”

 “That’s the way it looks, enough so that the carpet factory is willing to fire him over it.”

“But how can they just—“

“It’s their word against his.  No unions, remember?  They don’t HAVE to keep him on if they don’t want to.”

“And you really think he got injured so—“

“It happens more times than you think.  The factory has a set ‘price list’ already in place for such situations.  The pinky is the cheapest, second and ring fingers next, with the ‘bird finger’ after that.  Thumbs are expensive, and should be—you’d be surprised how much you limit yourself without one.  Most don’t return to their previous job after losing a thumb.”

“No way,” I argued.  “You’re telling me the company has a — a LIST of prices for losing fingers?  That’s insane!”

“Insane?  Afraid not.  They’ve got it down to an art.  Of course, they don’t WANT TO pay out any extra money, but it’s RIDICULOUSLY cheaper than all the extra costs a union would impose on them.  A lot of times, the workers who’ll do this kinda thing are some of the best workers they have, so they’ll look the other way the first time, maybe more.  But I guess it’s gotten so popular, with jobs so hard to come by they just don’t see the need anymore.  Or something like that…”

I remember feeling sick at my stomach, the way I always feel when looking at a deep and open cut, a fresh-bleeding injury, a wounded animal on the side of the road.  I looked at my husband, and knew I we were thinking the same thing.

Could I do this?  Could he?  We loved each other, our children.  My parents were still living at the time, and I treasured them in every way.  I felt sure that, should such a bizarre occasion arise, I could step in front of a speeding bullet or an oncoming train to offer my life instead of theirs, COULDN’T I? 

Yet still, could I plan ahead, know for days/weeks/months what would happen and how it would feel, also knowing things could go wrong and the outcome be even worse?  I wanted to be a person who loved that much, that extremely, that purely, but was I?    How could I ever be sure?

I have lived in a place where unions were paramount in making good the lives of employees.  But then I saw the factories fail, changing a once-happy suburbia into a ghost town.  I moved into a place that said ‘no’ to unions; I saw multiple injuries people accepted as part of the territory.  Even without unions, a fluctuating economy is closing factories every day, and we all want to blame the OTHER political party, the OTHER way of life, whoever doesn’t agree with our own personal beliefs. 

I started writing this as I pondered the question “who likes the unions?”  In doing so, the best answer I’ve come up with is that I at least like the good things they have done.  I’ve seen some pretty bleak outcomes of areas WITHOUT unions.  If “laws now protect employees” perhaps their time is over, but I will have to be a little more assured before I fully believe this.  The only union I’ve known personally was for teachers, and I’m proud to say I never had to call on them for anything.  Still, I’m glad to know they were there…



“…with a Capital P…”



This started out as a response to a local facebook group called “Suggestions for Your Politicians” but ended too long and as more of an essay. Being one of the few liberals in my part of the state, my ideas are generally quite oddly viewed at best.

I have not always voted Democrat. My favorite President is Abe Lincoln, and he was a Republican. Like most kids, I started out voting like my parents.  In my first Presidential election, I voted for Gerald Ford! My father, an avid politics follower, voted for Jimmy Carter as governor of Georgia yet voted against him for President because of promises made and not kept to Georgia agriculture.  I first voted Democrat for Dukakis in 1988 and have voted for all Democratic Presidential candidates since.

In party politics, I generally vote for policies and ideas over parties.  I believe Democrat Zell Miller was the greatest Georgia ever, yet the Democrat who followed him was nothing like him, as different as the two Republicans that followed.  There are certain issues, such as the right to quality education, women’s rights, and capital punishment, that I feel so deeply about that those ideas alone will change my mind on which way to cast my vote.   I try to read as much as possible before elections, but in this amazing information age, it’s impossible to read it all nor really know which is the most reliable.  (Within reason.  Sorry, Fox News, but I’m not that dumb.)  Before this Facebook page, I have never been active in spreading my political views whatsoever, and today I find myself wondering why in the heck I’m doing it now.  Here’s the only reason I can find.

As a teacher I was not a good football fan for Calhoun High School, because they always won by ridiculous margins, and I always ended up feeling sorry for the other team.  Everyone deserves someone one their side, that’s why those caught red-handed in cold-blooded murder deserve the right to an attorney and to have their side heard in court—a basic principle this country’s foundation. (An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.) I think I got involved here because no one would say anything positive, at least not to begin with. 

I have never met Wes Roland and he is as conservative as I am liberal, but I think I would like to know him, be friends with him, have him live across the street because he is not beyond admitting that there can be good in both sides.  This is a good page because local citizens of many beliefs can state their feelings and we all listen, whether or not we particularly agree.  Some of you have changed my mind on a few things because of your understanding of the issues and willingness to explain, whereas others only “cheer on” the side of me that wants to see the underdog totally annihilate the big dog, just because you seem so relentlessly mean, like caricatures of everything we don’t want depicted when speaking of the south. 

My dad was literally the smartest guy I ever knew- born to a dirt-poor family on Sand Mountain, Alabama, he was the first in his family to complete high school.  He put himself through his first two years of college while sending money home to his family,  served terms in both the Marines and the Navy, then came back to complete his schooling and go to work for the Georgia Department of Agriculture.  Later obtaining two additional masters degrees, he worked there for 30 years while also pursuing additional careers in farming and real estate.  When he died, he was referred to as a “retired teacher, agricultural advocate, and entrepreneur.”  He was also, admittedly, a bit of a racist.

As I grew older and broke away from voting the way of my parents, my dad and I had many conversations about this, and none of them were ugly or hurtful.  I was in my 30’s when I realized I would never change the way my father felt, but that I could accept his beliefs as his own and not judge him.  He was a product of the area from which he came and the events of a particular time I had not experienced.  When I asked how he felt about my decisions to vote differently from him, he spoke with a wisdom that both surprised and delighted me.

“Your ideas shouldn’t be carbon copies of mine, Elaine,” he said.  “That would mean that nothing had changed from my generation to yours, that we were simply standing still.  You live in a different world than the one I grew up in, one I hope that’s better and will continue to be.  I’m old and don’t have much need to get out in the world anymore, but you do.  Someone carrying my visions would not do too well out there, things have changed while I was busy living life.  We took you to church and sent you to school, but you made a life of your own in that world.  I’m glad you’re not just like me, you’ll do better in the next century with your ideas than I would have with mine.  We may see things differently, but if we raised you right, you’ll do what you think is right for your time and your world.”

I worry about the national debt, but it’s not something I stay awake nights over.  I would like to thank the people on this page for reminding me to worry over it. I think about it several times a day now, and I have you guys to thank, for whatever that’s worth. Seriously, there is a “sister” facebook page here in Gordon County that I’ve started to avoid simply because it keeps me awake nights over things I can’t stop from happening: it’s the page about the ANIMAL SHELTER.  I shed tears over unwanted kittens, but before you guys I didn’t think much about the national debt.  (Okay, you’re right, there is seriously something wrong with me.  And maybe I could make a difference at the shelter, if I simply got rid of my husband and brought all the kittens home with me.  Oh well…)

I don’t claim to know all the answers or even any answers at all, but I do know that all this negativity isn’t helping us.  I’m the first in line to make fun of George W. (come on, folks, he waved across the room at Stevie Wonder!) but I also realize he was/is much smarter than me.  There has never been a U.S. President who wasn’t much smarter than me and most of the people I know.  Look at what these men accomplished even before they came to the oval office and you’ll see impressive records of education, service, government, and their former careers.  America may make some questionable choices at times, but we do not put idiots in the Presidency, and I’m pretty sure that insinuation is what makes me go ballistic on this page from time to time. 

There’s a reason that our Presidents are called so from the time they take office until they die. We also refer to all U.S. Presidents with a capital “P.”  It’s a matter of respect. 

I know that throughout history, there have always been negative things said about all those in higher office, and it’s simply the nature of man.  However, this is the first time in my life that it has felt like pure and simple hatred, and that’s something I can’t abide. 

We wonder why kids don’t respect their parents, their teachers, law enforcement?  I think it’s because they don’t see respect in action much anymore.  It’s more popular to rant against those in authority, whatever that authority may be, than to respect a chain of command.

I’m not Catholic, but I get very upset with those who disrespect the Pope.  I absolutely hate and abhor all professional sports, but I have no problem with other people liking them.  My hate for barbaric games that I believe do nothing to improve mankind does not transfer over to the people who play those games, so you won’t see me making slurs about Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow, Michael Phelps, Serena Williams, or any of those wonderful athletes the world is so fond of— I respect them even though I care nothing for the games they play. 

I don’t tear up or cry when I hear our national anthem, and it sometimes makes me feel bad that I don’t.  (Probably a musician thing—I’ve had to teach it, play it, and direct it being sung at too many football games and became “immune.”) However, anytime I sit down and reread The Emancipation Proclamation, The Gettysburg Address, Kennedy’s Inauguration Speech, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and many others, I cry with pride and amazement at their beauty and power, and am overtly proud to live in this country. When I hear my current President speak to the nation, it reminds me of these things all over again.

You don’t have to like him, you don’t have to agree with him, and of course you don’t have to vote for him.  But people are watching you—your peers, your friends, your internet contemporaries, and impressionable kids—your kids, grandkids, people who go in your businesses, visit the same places, live across the street.  Do you want them to grow up with no barriers on their ability to disrespect others?  What is happening to manners, common courtesy, and most of all RESPECT?

Barack Obama is the current President of the United States of America, with a capital “P.” 

Show some respect, people.





Summer Reading–for the winter months…

I wrote this at the end of the summer, yet somehow  “forgot” to post it.  Oh well, if it’s possible to promote such lame ideas as “Christmas in August,” then why not “Summer Reading for January?”  Here goes…

I was never a tomboy, and I haven’t had much of an identity crisis on the subject of femininity—I love slinky black dresses, flowery peasant tops, female vocalists that who leave no doubt that they are indeed girls.  But occasionally, through the years, there have been a few instances in which I’m simply not in touch with my feminine side, I guess.

For instance, I have never, for one moment, wanted to be a nurse.  I love flowers, but only when someone else does the planting, pruning, and other stuff that requires sunscreen and gardening gloves.  Cookware is a necessity, like air and water, but nothing I ever want to receive as a personal gift.  And, contrary to what the majority of women are reading and watching on TV these days, I have no desire whatsoever for remodeling a house.  Ever.

A lifetime avid reader, my “book consumption” has grown to amazing proportions since my retirement last year.  Living in a community where the closest bookstores are an hour away, the highlight of my week is often seeing the UPS man who bears the ever-so-beautiful trademark of  Attending literary conferences, I’ve heard the repeated pleas to support my local independent bookstore, but such nirvana simply doesn’t exist in my neck of the woods, leaving me to form a special friendship with online book suppliers all over the country. I buy books for only a few cents each, paying the shipping charge only once, and becoming a “preferred customer” at dozens of independent stores.  As for new books, Amazon knows all my favorite authors, alerting me to pre-order months ahead and often having the book in my hand before it hits the stores.

However, my “summer reading list” of the past two weeks has brought to question a new faction in my female identity crisis, one that I didn’t see coming until it blindsided me—for the first time ever, I lay out the last six books I’d read, just to make I wasn’t confusing them.  Sure, they might be considered in the “chick lit” category, but they were nice stories, with real characters and freshly derived plot lines.  They were cleanly organized, with tear-jerking moments here and there, and they were well-written tales I’d be more than proud to claim as my own—yet, read back-to-back, there was a certain sameness I couldn’t quite get over.  I’d wake up in the night, grabbing one copy or the other to re-familiarize myself with which characters belonged in which book.  It’s like I wanted them all to know each other, to cheat on each other, or at least to have one big social outing and match together those closest in nature, maybe even cancel out a few duplicates.

But that wasn’t the problem at all; the characters were not the same, but it seemed that every story involved renovating a house.  My literary life had become a non-stop episode of Trading Spaces, and I hadn’t watched such a show since the original This Old House.  Tim Allen is a hilarious comedic actor, but I find even the three-minute segments of his Tool Time skits too grueling to bear.  So how the hell did I end up with week’s worth of How-To/House Beautiful books?

Picture if you dare, a would-be trailer for my summer-reads composite book review.  Book #1 – The Beach Trees by Karen White.  The cover, though pretty in its own right, gives nothing away about the actual plot.  Blue sky, waves at low tide, the skeletal outline of a nondescript tree in the upper left corner, a sand-beached driftwood log in the bottom right.  No birds pictured, but I can hear the faint cry of gulls against the slapping waters, fading into the opening bars of Chicago’s “Wishing You Were Here,” (with backup vocals by The Beach Boys!)  As the book opens, protagonist Julie Holt is leaving her home, her job, and life as she knows it for a foreign address in Biloxi, Mississippi, taking the son of her recently deceased best friend to a summer home Julie has never seen.  Julie is no stranger to tragedy; at the young age of twelve her sister is taken while Julie is supposed to be watching her. Consumed by a life of searching for Chelsea, Julie is now imposed with motherhood; her late friend Monica has left a beach house and her five-year-old son Beau in Julie’s care.

Julie arrives to find that the beach house no longer exists, destroyed by Katrina. She is devastated and has no idea what to do next. Monica had told her to see Ray Von, an elderly woman who gives her a portrait that Julie’s own great-grandfather had painted and that is worth a lot of money. She tells her to take Beau to New Orleans to meet Beau’s great-grandmother Aimee and that she can be sure of a place to stay there.

Julie dreads the meeting as she will have to tell Aimee and Monica’s brother Trey that Monica has passed away, but she knows that both Beau and his family deserve to know each other. The family is shocked and heartbroken, but at least now they know what happened to Monica after she disappeared ten years ago. They are thrilled to have a piece of Monica in Beau and encourage Julie to stay, however, it turns out that Monica only owned half of the beach house property.  Her brother Trey is hurt and angry, seeming to want Julie out of the picture. As Julie and Trey begin to rebuild the beach house called River Song, they discover that they have much more in common than they thought.  Moving forward towards a goodbye to their respective siblings, the two subplots submerge in a predictable but well-planned narrative.

Yes, they build a house.  But even though the beach house must be completely rebuilt from the foundation upward, White is careful not to “drown the reader” in too many structural and architectural details.  A character-driven tale, each physical description rendered of the construction has specific meaning to the characters involved.  Parallels between the building of a living space and the building of a relationship are easy to see without being trite or redundant.  Current historical information also enhances the storyline. The Beach Trees is a pleasant and thoughtful read.

Book #2 – Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews was not exactly what I expected, but a nice adventure nonetheless.  Having read all of this Georgia author’s previous tales, the cover was no surprise—brightly colorful as those before it, this one a background of crisp, white shingles with teal and hot pink lettering.  A variety of “beach chairs” completed the front; neon stripes, solid canvas, Adirondack, and a folding aluminum chair with strips of bright plastic woven as a seat—a type chair I had not seen since my mother “re-wove” some for our family in the early 60’s! Taking me back to my first beach vacations about that time, the Beach Boys continued the “track-in-my-head” as I headed into the “fun, fun, fun” I knew lay just inside the cover.

Andrews’s love of food and antiques seems to make it’s way into all her books, in fact, my favorite chicken salad recipe comes from Little Bitty Lies, so I was quite surprised to find no recipes in her latest saga. Savannah Breeze would be an excellent how-to guidebook for counterfeiting antique furniture, so as soon as I read of the many problems (stove with one working burner, less-than-sturdy window unit air conditioners, supplied “flatware” is plastic) with the Summer Rental cottage, I feared an upcoming treatise on bad advertising in real estate, but this was not the case.  As three childhood friends (and an unexpected guest) spend a month of bonding time in a broken-down cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Andrews focuses on her characters’ secrets and relationships, a plot which unfolds to the reader but is undetected by the characters, and a feel-good tale of friendships, old and new.  Though the overall story is predictable and some of the dialogue a bit cheesy, it has all the key elements of a good summer read; if you can’t spend a month in salt sea air, reading it is the next best thing.

Book #3, One Summer by David Baladacci, isn’t a bad read, but I’m guessing it’s had some pretty disappointed readers. Baladacci, known for best-selling legal thrillers like Last Man Standing, The Simple Truth, and The Camel Club, has gone way out on a limb with this Nicolas Sparks-like “miracle story” reminiscent of every other drama on Lifetime. Boasting a cover that could hang in any oceanside local gallery, a lighthouse at low tide, complete with far-off seagulls herald the reader with “yes, it’s another beach story.”  Bring up the Kenny G music.  It’s in pastels—it’ll be sad, but probably end like all Lifetime movies—“with hope for tomorrow.”  I probably should stop here, but…

In the beginning, Jack Armstrong, former army ranger and war hero, is a terminally ill family man just praying to make it through Christmas. This brought to my mind the term author Larry Brown referred to as “sandbagging”—placing every possibly hardship on a character, then adding one more.

On Christmas Eve, Jack’s wife and childhood sweetheart, Lizzie, is killed in a car wreck while on a medicine run for Jack.  Plans are made by Jack’s mother-in-law: the three children will be divided up among aunts and uncles across the country, and Jack will be put into hospice. Miraculously, Jack’s health turns around, and he’s able to reclaim his kids and follow Lizzie’s last verbalized wish, to take the kids to the South Carolina shore where she grew up. There, where Jack tries to reassemble the family and learn how to be a single parent, he works to renovate the cottage that Lizzie loved, complete with a nonfunctioning lighthouse. Jack, a contractor by trade, becomes somewhat obsessed with the lighthouse, trying to hold his family together but oftentimes retreating to the lighthouse, where he can be alone with his memories. Just as they’re beginning to settle into a functional family again, Jack’s mother-in-law uses his obsession with the lighthouse as an excuse to sue for custody of the kids. Jack loses custody; in a brutally drawn out last scene, Jack finds the inner strength of the soldier he once was, sets out to find his daughter who has run away, then rescues her.  Oh yeah – the dysfunctional lighthouse, which he never fixed, suddenly works, and saves the day.  Didn’t you see that one coming?

The book’s actual narrative is not badly written—I found myself actually tearing up a time or two, but this is not a book I’ll want to read again—I’m actually glad I purchased it on Kindle and no trees died for it.  Did I say how I’d never wanted to rebuild a house?  Make that triple-ditto for a lighthouse…

Books #4, 5, & 6 were all penned by Atlanta author Wendy Wax.  The Accidental Bestseller is the first book I read by this author, and is possibly my favorite summer read thus far. The cover is boring, out-of-focus, and leaves not a clue for the reader—but that’s okay; this one delivers! Written from multiple viewpoints, it centers around four female authors who met at the beginning of their careers and act as a support network for one another.  The main protagonist, Kendall Aims, has been “sandbagged” a bit herself: the opening scene finds her waiting for a coveted writing award, one they all believe she has “in the bag,” and she loses.  She is then approached by her agent, informing her that she will be dropped after her next book, but must still deliver on time or pay back her advance, which has already gone into her twins’s college tuition.  Depressed beyond despair, she opts to fly home to Atlanta a day early, where she discovers her husband has a younger mistress in tow, a realtor who has a key to their home and has already placed their house for sale, unbeknownst to her.  Kendall flees Atlanta and retreats to her childhood vacation home, a dilapidated cabin in the mountains of North Carolina.

Unable to think, much less write, Kendall suddenly finds solace in “fixing things” around the cabin, a strange pastime for a woman who has never before even held a hammer or a screwdriver.  She becomes obsessed with TLC and HGTV, staying up all night as she watches others build new lives with power tools.  Home Depot becomes her personal crack house. She has not written the first word of her new book—she can’t, but she has a tool belt and an expanding array of shiny new implements.  She is out of control.  Once again, I will remind you that I have no desire to renovate a house, but this is different!  I can stand it because it’s so absurd, and who knows?  Maybe with that much sandbagging, I, too, could become a Tool Time junkie, though I highly doubt it.  It’s not what I do normally, but at least the author makes it possible for me to imagine it…

Kendall’s three friends come to the mountain cabin, ready to help in whatever ways they can.  First hiding her power tools and making her go back to her real work, they secretly collaborate on a book that incorporates real details of all four of their lives. A clever side story (or a book-within-the book) also reveals many aspects of the publishing process seldom explained to those outside that elite world. Since all I know about the publishing industry is that I can’t get my foot in the door, this was like a realty show for people a few rungs up the ladder from me.   The characters’ “insider’s view” of publishing was as interesting as the story itself; this was the most page-turning experience I’ve had in quite a while. Even when plot lines were predictable, there was always an element of learning something new in each turn.  I can honestly say I hated to see this one end.

Magnolia Wednesdays (#5) is typical southern chick lit, but not bad. With a tasteful, pretty cover worthy of Fanny Flagg, this one’s background score switches to classic country, a strong, upscale female voice like Carrie Underwood or Miranda Lambert.  The book begins as Vivian Gray, an investigative reporter for a big news company in New York, is filming an FBI sting operation. Hidden in an alley preparing to get the story first, Vivi is shot in the derriere while the camera is running.  When she awakens in the hospital, the whole world has seen the event on “YouTube.”

Learning that the station is about to replace her, Vivian quits. Jobless, with her boyfriend working a story in Iran, she discovers she is pregnant. She secretly takes a job writing a column on suburban lifestyles, using an assumed name while moving back to suburban Atlanta with her sister.

The happenings are predictable, but hilariously intriguing. You know she’ll be caught, but keep reading and rooting for her in an “I Love Lucy” sort of mindset.  There wasn’t a single cliffhanger or surprise in the whole book, yet I loved it.  Then again, maybe it was because there were no saws, hammers, or renovations…

Wax’s latest book, Ten Beach Road (#6) has believable characters, a stripped-from-the-headlines kind of plot twist, and beautiful descriptions of southernmost Florida only a native could capture.  Three strangers discover they share something horrible in common: their crooked financial manager has vanished, and with him are their life savings. The only thing left is the one third they each own in Bella Flora, an ancient, historically significant waterfront vacation home that needs massive renovation (or total demolition.) Banding together, they attempt to do the “grunt work” for a contractor working on contingency.

Before I go on—okay, I like the plot.  I love the characters.  I enjoyed the pacing, BUT—

One of the characters has just lost her job on an HGTV home improvement show.  Her estranged mother, interior-designer-to-the-stars with her on Lifetime Channel series, climbs aboard the project for her own made-for-TV reasons.

Another character is an aspiring filmmaker, following their progress with expertly edited weekly updates on YouTube.  These clips go viral, garnering a worldwide audience and ending with an offer of the group’s own How-to/Fixer-Upper series on another reality-based network.

The name-dropping of TV shows, architectural aids, name-brand furniture, appliances, gardening tools, you-name-it are enough to make the I-never-wanna-renovate-ANYTHING run screaming into the night—FOREVER!

I love the idea, but wish I could get the Home-Depot-Disabled version, with all the brand names and do-it-yourself guides left out—I might actually read that one again.

Okay, what did I learn from this part of my summer reading experience?  In retrospect, it’s interesting to learn that Karen White (#1) and Wendy Wax (#’s 4, 5, & 6) are friends; I wonder if they’re revamping a writers’ cabin together, making joint trips to Home Depot.  As for Mary Kay Andrews, I’m guessing she is exactly on track with where she wants to be.  I will read her next book, and probably the next and the next, though I’m thinking she may join the Kindle shelf—other than recipes, I don’t reread much of hers.  I’ll buy the next Baldacci on Kindle as well, though I think it’s a safe bet to say he’ll be moving back to the more believable kind of thrills.  After all, do we really NEED more than one Nicholas Sparks?  And, (drumroll please…)

I just ordered Wendy Wax’s first four novels for one cent plus shipping.  I really love her characters and style and can’t wait to trip away to chick lit heaven—reading on her website that the RESEARCH for Ten Beach Road turned her into an HGTV addict is  not a problem for me—I’m getting the before, not the after.

I’m hoping this female identity crisis is a passing phase—I guess the Flip This House craze is an outlet for those who aren’t hoping to be the next American Idol and are too afraid of snakes and such for trying the Island Survival idea.  I intend to stick to my guns—no power tools, kitchen gadgets, or mini-gardening tractors for me, not now or ever.  (And the nursing profession is still safe from me as well.)  I always knew the day would come that I could officially call myself old—but I never figured it would be for my lack of expertise in shopping at Home Depot.  Oh well, guess I’ll go read a book.

Fiction.  With no power tools.  And Allison Krauss in the background…

Happy Summer Reading!


Literary Masturbation?

I’m a writer, but not much of a blogger, it seems.  Guess I’ll try again.

Today I saw “The 25 Most Intriguing Book Jackets of the Year.”  Loved it.  Then moved on to find the most exhilarating website for ebook covers – I never plan to really use it, of course, besides my “baby” will be a real book and not an ebook, but it’s SO MUCH fun to just look…

As a writer, I want the traditional “white wedding,” with an agent who helps me secure Mr. Right, an editor to advise me and fix all my flaws before the big day, a publisher to walk me down the aisle, and a publicist to record every second of that stellar, one-brief-moment event.  The way it was meant to be, right?

Like our mothers told us, “true love waits,” and I will not sell out before the time comes.  I have an MFA and twenty-eight years teaching experience; no adjunct professorship will consider me “clean” if I self-sell my wares without the proper guardianship expected before that all-important first cotillion, right?

So I will be a good girl, and keep writing, re-writing, and sending out these useless queries to agents who never read them and small presses who have enough seasoned horses in their stables to last until virtual ponies are the norm or even passé.  Because true love waits, right?

But today I found this website of inexpensive, pre-made ebook covers.  They are glaringly colorful, tawdry, and simply SCREAM “the wrong kind of woman.”  I would die a self-starved virgin before I would consider wrapping my perfect child within such cheap harlot’s clothing, but I have to admit that a little fantasy never hurt anyone.  Right?

“Absolutely not,” I’ll tell them, pushing my hair back from my eyes and swallowing that sweet, dry taste of too much, too soon.  “My book is set in the deep south—nix on the oceanfront cover.”

I’ll have hundreds of reasons to say no, enjoying the flirtatious banter of each one.

“Why is her blouse falling off the shoulder, and where is his other hand?  Not appropriate!”  I may even manage to blush.

“All the heroines look like Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Anniston.  I need Mary Steenburgen.”  That should let ‘em know I mean business.

“Are there any covers that don’t have Barbie and Ken figures?  And what’s up with all the mist?”  I’ll have them sweating, groveling at the feet of one who simply knows her stuff.

“Is there a reason for using so many pics from the Microsoft Clip Gallery? What’s with the symbolism—a gun here, a skull and crossbones there, a caldron, a partridge, and a pear tree? ”

I’ll state my concerns, then finally ask—

“Why is everything so damned shiny?”

The possibilities are endless.  I’m having more fun than I ever have sending queries, and besides, this is a secret.  No one needs to know, just a little gratification to keep me going ‘til the real thing comes along.  Right?

I will never sell out.  True love waits.  But to heck with explaining it—find it yourselves.

I have temporarily abandoned my search for truth and am stopping now to enjoy a good fantasy.  Merry Christmas, folks!

Not Your Average Mother’s Day Blog…

She made my wedding dress from four magazine photos and no pattern.  She designed and installed draperies for my high school’s auditorium. When I started a new school in fifth grade, she presented all twenty-four of my new classmates with a handmade Christmas gift.   Today, I can’t be sure that I said so much as a “thank you” for any of the above, but she seemed to take it in stride.  She was my mother, and that was simply what mothers did.

Adopted as an infant by a barren woman of forty, I was my parents’ long awaited miracle. Though a “daddy’s girl” for a lifetime, my mother taught me so many things: the importance of church work, setting a proper table, understanding the intricacies of our family tree, manners and etiquette and writing thank-you notes.  She tried to teach me to finish seams, make darts, set in zippers, and embroider.  Together we read the Bible, memorizing new verses each week.  We prayed for home and foreign missionaries, took casseroles to the sick and the dying and my outgrown clothes to “less fortunate” little girls in the community.

“Be Ye Doers of the Word,” my mother would sing in her scratchy, non-musical voice, followed by “Every Day with Jesus” and “This Little Light of Mine.”  Hide it under a bushel? No!  I never quite understood what it meant, but I fell in step with the order and routine of being a good girl, from a good family, doing all the right things that showed the world she was a good mother, raising me right. She was a very good mother. Yet perhaps her greatest acts of maternal devotion were those never seen by the rest of the world and known only to me.

Fifth grade, that monumental year of discovering that away from my home, my church, and my tiny community, I seemed to amount to nothing at all.  Just before Christmas, I finally felt a minuscule flash of accomplishment, winning an essay contest sponsored by the regional DAR.  My teacher, my mother, and I were “treated” to a lovely lunch of rubber chicken and green beans at a local chapter meeting, where after reading from my essay I was given a medal and a savings bond.  (I wondered if other fifth graders would find this event interesting: My guess was NO.)

About to decide that I’d rather have been at school with my non-friendly classmates, one of the DAR officials seated at our table began to drill my mother on our family history.  When they asked about our lineage, my mother talked of the family Bible, birth, death and marriage certificates, boxes of letters and photos, and a hundred-year genealogy she’d completed though never published.  A kind, blue-haired lady began to explain census records, military service records, and how to contact the vital records office for hard copies constituting proof of what my mother already knew.  We left the meeting with a large manila envelope of DAR info, and my mother was positively radiant at the prospect of becoming the Revolution’s newest daughter. I was confused but a little proud, too; my mother seldom got excited over anything for herself.

Her energy grew continually in the coming weeks.  I’d come home from school each day to younger, happier woman who had cleared the dining room table (used a half dozen times a year for meals and serving as layout area for sewing projects the rest of the time)  and covered it in Xeroxed legal documents, yellowing letters, old photos and an elongated family tree, a map-like genealogy diagram held together from the back with Scotch-brand invisible tape. The tree seemed to grow longer and more elaborate on a daily basis.

As quickly as the whirlwind began, it ended.  I came home from school one day, and the dining room was cleared of all but a navy polyester, its sixty inch width doubled and covered with a Butterick dress pattern she was pinning to it.  A new dress for me.

“What happen to all the family stuff?” I asked.  “Did you finish your work and get it all sent in?”  The project had practically consumed her for three weeks.  It had surely taken the better part of a day just to put away the mounds of artifacts.

“Oh, that,” she said, sounding nonchalant to the point of boredom.  I didn’t get it.

“I decided it was a waste of time and effort,” she said. “Who cares if about proving where we came from?  Just knowing it was enough for my mother, her mother and all those before.  It’ll be good enough for me, too.”

I thought a heard a glitch in her voice, and I was sure the glassy look in her eyes was the product of stifled tears, but I was in fifth grade.  When things got awkward, we simply walked away.

“I’m going to my room, lots of homework,” I lied.  My mother nodded, never looking me in the eye, intent on lifting the scissors, then guiding them around the paper pattern and through the cloth.

It would be years before we discussed that day or the DAR again, but my father told me later that night that she had made a decision not to pursue membership in the organization.

“But why?” I asked.  “It’s all she’s talked about since the day we went to that lunch thing.  She was so crazy-excited about it.  What happened?”

He looked it me with that weird, dazed look he always got when singing the praises of my mother.  I hated that look; it made me feel weird, and embarrassed and a little jealous.

“Your mother loves you more than anything else on this earth,” he said.  “She found out, after she got all her documents in order, that because you were adopted, the lineage to the DAR stops with her.  It doesn’t descend to non-blood relatives.”

I felt tears sting my eyes as I swallowed the lump in my throat.

“But I don’t care about being in the DAR,” I said.  “Why can’t she just do it for herself? I mean, after she did all the work and all…”

“I figured as much, and tried to tell her, but it was no use.  Your mother wants no part in an organization that doesn’t recognize you.”

Life went on, and like I said, it was years before we talked about the DAR.  It was like the whole event never happened.

I grew up.  I’d like to say we became closer through the years, but that would be a lie.  Face to face, I always felt as though I never quite measured up, never towed the line in the Southern Baptist, homemaker, church worker and do-gooder tradition set before me. It seemed no matter what I did, I was always slightly under par. My oldest daughter filled in the gap, growing closer to my mother than I would ever be.  On her deathbed, she called me by my daughter’s name.

Yet I know that when I wasn’t there, was not standing with her, face-to-face, I did measure up. I was a half-century old before I realized her judgments were all an act. I was always the miracle of her life, even if she didn’t tell me. When she spoke of me to anyone else, the President, the Secretary of Education, even Rodgers & Hammerstein dulled in comparison.  But she never told me – guess it would’ve gone to my head.

Not much of an excuse for never saying thank you. But it’s the only one I have.

Another year, another Mother’s Day.  Why is it that every year, I seem to remember more and more things for which I never said thank you, and I have a feeling it will only get worse?

My mother attended two years of teacher’s college, yet she drew floor plans for her house, did “bookkeeping” for several mid-sized businesses and did her best to teach an ungrateful daughter all the more important facets of honest, Christian living.

Mom, I really did learn – it just took a long time for the learning to take effect.  Thank you, Mother, for everything. Whatever good is in me today, it all started with you.  Thank you.

Happy Mother’s Day!


Another Writers’ Conference (Written in third person to sound more – authentic?)

The day had finally arrived: she would spend two glorious days soaking up the smell and feel and aura of all things associated with good books, sneaking in the back door at the Conference on Southern Literature in Chattanooga.

Why did she say “sneaking in?”  She wasn’t sure.  She’d paid $60, the only requirement for being present, and there were no credentials she’d had to present in order to get the name badge and canvas bag that signified her as one of the profound and artsy people allowed to attend events, listen to speakers, stand in line for autographs, and buy more books.  Yet the feeling of not-quite-belonging remained, allowing her to feast upon the given bounty with euphoric enthusiasm while always looking over her shoulder, assuming that at any moment the invisible “book police” might sniff her out, exposing her for the more-than-reader-but-not-yet-author she really was.  Even so, fear of being caught can be a near-aphrodisiac, and with each new and inspiring thought she grabbed onto, the excitement at simply being a part of it all seemed to multiply.

The first day—not as organized as she expected.  With the opening panel of guests, when the PA system is not working at all, she thinks the sparse audience should at least try to be quiet so that these esteemed authors can be heard, but no such luck.  Then comes the grand opening event – the premiere of the documentary film (of the autobiography she’d just finished reading last night.)  The author, as well as the director and producer of the film are on stage, while cell phones are ringing in various chairs of the auditorium seating below.  People actually ANSWER the phones; a few leave the room to complete their calls, others talk from their seats in what they seem to think are quiet voices.  They aren’t.

Next session – “New FSW Writers.” She’s so green here, she’s not even sure what those letters stand for, but reads the printed program and puts together enough to assume that this may be Fellowship of Southern Writers or something therein.  She is “geared” for this one: Being somewhat of a “workshop junkie” of this genre, she’s read at least one book from all the folks on the panel, actually ALL the books of one, who she’s seen at a previous conference and didn’t realize was a “southern” author.

“Oh!” she thinks, hearing in the moderator’s introduction that the author, though born in California, now lives in Tennessee.  So even here, in a birthplace of southern gentility, we do what we have to do to get bestsellers on the ticket.  Oh well, she likes the author a lot and doesn’t really mind.

They read from their latest works, and she is transported to that place that only good books can take her.  She makes a note of the titles, knowing she’ll buy the ones available now and preorder the other one from Amazon.  Oh boy – now there’s some kind of tribute to a poet.  She grits her teeth but knows that this, too, will pass.  She learned back in school that poets were like Baptist preachers – the perfect time to plan to-do lists, Christmas lists, and other such boring but much-needed tasks.  And this poet, when he finally got to read, was actually interesting; she smiled at the images, laughed at the jokes, even got a little teary-eyed at the conclusion, but she knew better than to add this book to her list of must-haves.  The MFA program had taught her at least that much; she COULD listen to good poets read their work, but buying it to reread herself was a waste of trees and shelf-space.

Another panel discussion – this one she’d dreamed about since the first advertisement brochure: “A Writer’s Response to Environmental Threats – Preserving the Southern Landscape.”  Four writers she loved and a poet she’d at least heard of would talk about the South and how sense of place created and maintained the genre they all had in common.

This one is formatted a bit strangely; each author reads a couple of paragraphs of work, then talks about their own connections to environmental issues and how this affects the work.  The first author was a long time favorite: she’d been following Great Southern Authoress since her own days as a library assistant back in the 80’s. Exciting as it is to hear her, she can’t fully concentrate on the words; just seeing her on stage, in person, is like running into a long-lost friend, and her mind begins to wander.

She remembers the first time she actually SAW Authoress, standing at some sort of arts and crafts booth at the Decatur Book Festival, three years ago.  She stopped what she was doing, picked up some nearby object and pretended to ponder its details, just as an excuse to keep standing there, watching and listening.  She remembers the long, flowing skirt that Authoress wore, the glints in her dark hair under the sunlight, how she laughed casually about promising not to bring home anymore “treasures” because her house was running over.  She had sounded just like a real person, which didn’t seem right, yet of course it WAS right, since Authoress’s  stories were some of the most REAL she’d ever experienced.  She remembers the eerie feeling she’d gotten when it seemed that Authoress had been inside her family home, met her relatives, and actually seen inside her head as to how she felt about them.  And there she was, in normal clothes she might buy herself, walking around at the same book event, breathing the same air that she did. Amazing!

Of course, that had been her FIRST book festival.  She’d been to many since, and learned not to be quite so star-struck by the creators of the words she so loved.  Still, seeing Authoress again is almost embarrassing, bringing back memories of how desperate she’d once been.

The Authoress finishes, and the next author begins.  Epic Tale Writer is her absolute favorite—she’d read all his books, even the poetry.  Knowing what he’s given the world, it’s a bit hard NOT to feel a sort of god-like presence as he speaks.  She loves the way, after first reading his novels, she’d found their beginnings in his short stories, knowing from a previous reading that this happened when “the characters simply weren’t through with him.”  The passage he reads now she knows well, but she still feels a slight chill as picturesque images set her up for the painful climax ahead.  Good stuff.

His environmental rant is almost poetry itself, reminding her of her father’s descriptions of the flora and fauna he cherished each day on the farm.  And once again, she finds it hard to hear every word, since her mind seems to go ADD in a hundred directions – back to the book, to her father, to other great books about streams and hollers and disappearing mountaintops—and then strangely back to the speaker himself, who she’d forgotten was better looking than Robert Redford.  It’s a kind of sensory overload – she is almost relieved when his time was over.

The Poetess reads.  Her words are as beautiful as the writer/reader, and she looks like a perfect cross between fairy and fashion model.  She is from New Orleans, and writes of the power and pain and rebirth caused by Katrina.  The awesomely hot Epic Tale Writer is seated next to her, and he looks at her intently as she speaks.   He smiles, nods, agrees, mesmerized by her every word.  Or maybe he is mesmerized by her beauty.  No way, she thinks, he is a saint and probably never thinks about things like that.  But the Poetess IS beautiful, and everything she says is so descriptive, and passionate, and wonderful, and—oh my god, she shudders,  Here she is in a room full of intelligent, well-read, artsy people, and she is getting turned on, imagining herself as the Poetess, being admired by the Hot Epic Tale Writer.  This is the stuff of which soap operas are made—extremely BAD soap operas.  She shakes her head, sits up straighter, and manages to focuses on the discussion at hand until the session concludes.  She vows to do better tomorrow.

Day Two.  It begins with a tribute to Harper Lee.  She hears nothing she didn’t already know, but it’s nice to know there’s a plethora of people who feel the same way she does about this iconic author and book.  Then there’s another panel discussion, “Revisions and All That Jazz,” presented by a poet she’s heard before, one she hasn’t, and (great!) Hot Epic Story Writer again.  Staying on task may be harder than she expected, so she decides to take more notes—lots of notes.

Again, they read, and then they address the subject of revision.  They are very good – they must have called each other before the conference, because they all give at least two quotes from other writers about the act of writing.  She writes them all down.  Then they all talk about what they are currently reading – which she REALLY likes to hear.  She decides she likes this format. The speakers have done their homework and have plenty to say, and it’s refreshing to NOT have a big block of their precious time taken up with inane questions from the audience.  She smiles, thinking if she had a nickel for every time she’d heard a stupid question about “process” she’d be able to attend a year of conferences for free.  To her, the idea of “process” is a done deal:  You either have one or you don’t, and it can work either way.  Hearing how each individual author lights candles, says three Hail Marys, plays Mozart, spits into the wind, etc. has done her no good and wasted far too much time she could have been hearing something beneficial.

She hates the three hours lunches: it was fun to explore downtown Chattanooga for an hour, the first day, but now it seems an all too obvious conspiracy of forcing them to spend money in this fair southern city.  She enjoys being able to explore the “book tables” without a crowd, limits herself to spending just under a hundred bucks, then goes back into the auditorium to read until the next panel begins.

On cloud nine with her bag of new books, she is a hundred pages into a great one when the room begins to fill again. She notices – could it be?  Yes, it is!  The author on which she based her graduating lecture is sitting two rows over, to her right!

The stage fills—a panelist is missing and being filled in by—you guessed it—Hot Epic Story Writer.  Damn!  She will have to take a mountain of notes to stay focused this time.

They read.  Lots of great quotes again, more writers about writing.  This panel is more idea-oriented, and she is proud to take down a great outline and some “prompts” she can’t wait to try out on her own. Hot Epic Story Writer is only mildly disturbing, but the Author-She-Has-Lectured-About is pulling her attention at an alarming rate.  Finally giving in, she stops taking notes, turning to a clean page and hoping to compose the world’s most artsy, intellectual, heartfelt, authentic fan-letter ever written. She looks over at his profile; he’s a book jacket come to life, just sitting there, in a regular seat, listening to the panel just like she’s doing, or WAS doing, until she started this letter.  She writes to him how many years she’s followed his work, how she’d given his books as specials gifts, how she built a shelf the perfect height for his earlier books, the short, classic hardbacks she’d recognize from across the room.  She’s about to explain how she chose him for that graduate lecture, then is struck-down-as-though-naked-in-a-crowded-room, realizing what an idiot she is.

More than a half-century old, she thinks, yet she’s nothing more than an over-educated groupie.  She takes a last glance at her would-be Mick Jagger, strikes through the page of over-written praise, and goes back to her notes.

She’s glad they’re talking about reading again.  That’s the only time she feels worthy in this world she wants to be a part of but is fast losing hope to ever reach.  But as always, the really good writers come back to the same conclusion.  You become a good writer from reading: if this is true, she’s either already good or will die trying, because she reads more than anyone she’s ever known.

The summer after second grade, she’d read 150 books, earning her a pictured spot in the local paper.  In her graduate program, mentors were always shocked when she read not only the ten chosen books per semester but two to three times that many.  In the eight months since her retirement, she had no idea how many books she’d read, but Amazon had a clue, and she hoped that info was never leaked out to anyone, fearing it might be grounds for being committed somewhere.  There was certain addictive behavior she associated with herself—if she liked an author, she simply couldn’t stop until she’d read everything they’d published, and if possible, their favorite authors as well.

She closes her notebook as the session draws to an end, exiting and heading for her car.  She sighs with her last look back at the stately old building, smiling slightly at the other book-lovers who flock to such events.  She wonders if they are more “normal” than she, attending Falcons’ and  Braves’ games, tractor pulls, Civil War reenactments, celebrations not based on secret lives and crushes-from-afar, known only to the reader.  Perhaps some of these people were at the last reading she attended, maybe even more than one.  She will never know, nor does she wish to—this is HER secret.  If one day she publishes something that puts her on the “other side of the table,” she’ll laugh and joke with Great Southern Authoress, Hot Epic Story Guy and the rest, but she will never turn her back on the nameless book-lovers who fill the room.  Is it possible that her heroes were once just one of them?  She hopes so.  Just believing it makes it all still seem possible.

But so much for that.  She pulls out from the parking lot and turns up the current audio book in her CD player.  This will speed up the ride, since she can’t wait to get home – and READ.

Until the next conference…