Okay, so I was encouraging you to read widely and read diversely. Here’s a sample (just a SAMPLE—check out my books on the Goodreads challenge for 2014) of what I read this year. It’s still not as diverse as I would like, but, hey, we all have to start somewhere! Also, I’ll happily take suggestions for new books I should try.
Traveling Mercies—Anne Lamott
Three Ingredient Cocktails—J. K. O’Hanlon
For historical fiction/nonfiction
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy—Karen Abbott
Leaving Atlanta—Tayari Jones (the first book I read after Christmas las year)
Don’t Talk to Strangers—Amanda Kyle Williams
The Other Woman—Hank Phillipi Ryan
The aforementioned Deanna Raybourn—all of them
Legal Seduction—Sharon Cooper
Summer is for Lovers—Jenni McQuiston (start with What Happens in Scotland)*
Her Cowboy Hero—Tanya Michaels*
Seeking Solace—Anna Steffl (and then buy the other 2 because…trilogy!)*
Remember Me—Romily Bernard (start with Find Me)*
The Theory of Attraction—Delphine Dryden
The Mistress—Tiffany Reisz (but start with The Siren or give a nonseries story like Misbehaving or The Headmaster a try)
Their Eyes Were Watching God—Zora Neale Hurston
Pretty Deadly—Kelly Sue DeConnick
Same, but different
Blood Vine—Amber Belldene (vampires who own a winery—yes, please)
Poison Princess—Kresley Cole (dystopia with a Cajun—yes, please)
Blackbirds–Chuck Wendig (I can’t describe this for you. Go read it.)
Fearless—Max Lucado (Okay I read this one last year, but I liked it better than this year’s)
Because you need to
Bird by Bird—Anne LaMott
All Beautiful Things—Nicki Salcedo
And looking to 2016, here are some of the ways I want to stretch myself
The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America—Christian Wolmar
The Lawyer’s Luck—Piper Huguley
The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor
Save the Cat Strikes Back—Blake Snyder
Shirley Jackson Novel and Stories
The Artist’s Way—Julia Cameron
My Sister’s Grave—Robert Dugoni
Blood, Ash, and Bone—Tina Whittle
Shades of Milk and Honey—Mary Robinette Kowal
The Dragon and the Pearl—Jeannie Lin
The Book of Unknown Americans—Christina Henreiquez
Heart of Obsidian—Nalini Singh
Crazy in Alabama—Mark Childress
Crash into You—Roni Loren
The Monsters of Templeton—Lauren Groff
When Sparrows Fall—Meg Moseley
The Power of Myth—Joseph Campbell
Wicked After Midnight—Delilah Dawson
That Old Cape Magic—Richard Russo
I need some good biblical stuff, y’all. Something scholarly. Last year I did the second book in the Disciple series, a Max Lucado, and a Henry Nouwen. I’m kinda at a loss as to where to find the kind of intellectual devotions, I prefer.
And what else? If you’re looking at my list, what do you think I’m missing? Did anything you read this year surprise you?
Okay, I’m putting in my request for a new Harry Connick, Jr Christmas album right here, right now. It’s a tall order because he’s already made three albums, but I think he can do it. Also, I want Harry Connick, Jr to overtake Johnny Mathis one day. Just because. Here are some songs I would love to hear the great HCJ tackle:
1. Still, Still, Still–Have you guys ever heard this charming song? It’s out of Austria or Germany or something like that. It’s gorgeous.
2. O Beautiful Star of Bethlehem–It’s one you don’t hear that often and would work well with jazz.
3. Jesus (What a Wonderful Child)–We need more versions of this song in the world.
4. What Christmas Means to Me–This is another song that is actually underutilized at Christmas. Not just anyone can sing a Stevie Wonder song, but I have faith in HCJ
5. Christmas in New Orleans–for reasons
6. Underneath the Tree–loved this song from Kelly Clarkson’s album last year
7. All I Want for Christmas (Is You)–Oh, it’s a standard now. Y’all know it.
8. Gender bent Baby, It’s Cold Outside–you know some lady would sing about getting HCJ to stay. Could be Kelly Clarkson since she had the awesome Underneath the Tree song.
9. Come and Tarry Not–it’s obscure and Scottish and awesome
10. The Misfit Toy song–my favorite part of Rudolph
11. Up on the Housetop–it might not beat Autry, but it would be a great excuse to have George Jones back…
12. Pour Some Sugar on Me
13. Bad Medicine
Okay, okay. I don’t really want Def Leppard or Bon Jovi on a HCJ Christmas album, but I had this great dream where he was playing hair metal in a honky tonk/rag/jazz kind of way, and those are the two I remember. It was an awesome set. See, Harry Connick, Jr always puts on such a good show that even his fictitious shows are awesome.
P.S. I’ve got mixed feelings on Cool Yule, a Lou Rawlsesque O Come All Ye Faithful, and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.
So I gotta tell you about the fun I had writing a Kindle Worlds story. I know you’re thinking, “Sally, you’ve got a novel coming out—why are you writing fan fiction?” Because it was fun, that’s why! Besides, when you’re given the opportunity to play around in the sand box of an author who’s been so instrumental in your own growth, you just gotta. I had already read all of the Body Mover books and who knows how many other books by Stephanie Bond, so I was all about giving this a shot. To top it all off, I’d been talking about trying my hand at a mystery for months, so it was kinda like the universe gave me a kick in the pants and said, “Get to it!”
There was one scene in 3 Men and a Body (book 3) that had stayed with me for a long time. I had to have read that book at least five years ago, and the almost love scene between Coop and Carlotta had me intrigued so I piggy-backed off that book. My story, A Day Late and a Body Short, is a What If Story that takes place after book 3. Obviously, I’d love for you to read my story and tell me what you think, but, if you haven’t tried the Body Movers series, you might want to go back to books 1-3 so I don’t spoil anything for you accidentally.
So I say yes to the story and then I come to an important realization: I know NOTHING and I do mean NOTHING about Buckhead socialites or fashion or Neiman Marcus. I had to start looking up just about every item anyone was wearing just to get inspiration. It’s all on my Pinterest Board. What else is on my Pinterest Board? Um, I may have started imagining Coop as the Tenth Doctor, aka David Tennant. So that happened. In related news, I don’t think I’m so Team Jack anymore. . .
The final coup de gras was my deciding on a lark to go to Neiman Marcus at Lenox Mall and get a feel for the place. Y’all. Mark my words: if I write another Body Movers story, it will have to involve Carlotta Wren’s country cousin. I do not belong in Lenox Mall. I sure as hell don’t belong in Neiman Marcus. So here’s what happened:
We’d gone to Disney for the Wine and Dine half marathon and totally forgot about how Ryan’s car was still at work. So I got the kids to school and drove him to work. On the way back, I thought, “Hey, there are a couple of scenes bothering you, and it might be helpful if you scoped the place out. It’s on the way home. . . Kinda.” So off I went to Lenox. Being an idiot, I went down West Paces Ferry—further proof I know the aforementioned NOTHING about Buckhead—got stuck in traffic, gawked at the governor’s mansion, the usual. Even with the traffic, I got there before anything opened.
A lady walked in front of my car, and I had a most harrowing realization: I was not in any way, shape, or form dressed for this. I was in yoga pants that had kitty litter dust on one knee, wearing a ratty sweatshirt, no makeup, and—here’s the kicker: a scrunchie! THE HORROR!
So I said, I can’t do this.
Then my self said, “You did NOT sit through all of that traffic just so you could turn around and go home. Your money is just as good as anyone else’s. You just don’t have as much of it.”
I stepped out of my dusty RAV-4 and walked to the Starbucks inside the Macy’s since that was the only thing open. I got my first peppermint mocha of the season when they informed me they didn’t brew coffee (O.o) and took a stroll around the mall to the main entrance.
By the time I got to Neiman Marcus, they had just opened. The lady at the makeup counter was very excited to see me. I’m guessing she saw a very blank canvas. Then I noticed some of the Christian Louboutin’s I’d been Googling and made the mistake of picking one up. Over one thousand dollars for a pair of shoes. I put them down very gently.
At this point I’m walking in the center of the aisles, hugging my mocha to my chest as I walk around to get a feel for where certain departments are, where the cafe was, where Carlotta might’ve gone to sneak a smoke. (That said I must add a disclaimer: Any similarities or differences are purely chance. If I were really writing about Neiman Marcus, it would’ve been a bit different. Especially the dressing rooms. I didn’t dare check out the dressing rooms because a) I was being closely watched, b) I had a coffee, and c) they were not in the center of the aisles where I stayed.) At several points, folks on the sales floor asked if they could help me. I give them kudos for being friendly even though it was obvious they could not, indeed, help me unless they wanted to answer hypothetical questions about shoplifting bras. I didn’t want them to think I was casing the joint, so I did not ask.
I told one lady I was just looking and that’s why I was hugging my coffee to my chest and she said, “That’s a good idea.”
Thanks for the vote of confidence, lady.
Anyhoo, I scouted out Neiman’s, took a look at the cafe, and almost bought Ryan a $20 turkey made of chocolate just because I could. It was infinitely more affordable than the aforementioned Louboutins, or the tank top that was $500 on clearance. (That rack was in the aisle. It could not be avoided.)
I think I still should’ve bought the $20 chocolate turkey. I mean, how many times can you say, “I bought a chocolate turkey at Neiman Marcus!”
My true inspiration for the story was an incident that happened at Upton’s when I picked up an extra shift in the lingerie department. A woman really did shoplift several bras by putting them on and wearing them out of the store. I called loss prevention, but she got away with a whole new lingerie wardrobe. Part two of the story was inspired by my trip to Oakland Cemetery and the Central State Asylum in Milledgeville I still want to visit. Um, as a tourist. Let me clarify that.
Also, I’m going to make a donation to the Historic Oakland Foundation from any proceeds I make from this novella. The story of the man and woman with multiple spouses in the same mausoleum is true, by the way. As to whether or not there are any empty caskets in Oakland? I wouldn’t presume to say.
Leave a comment below, and I’ll pick one person using random.org to receive a $5 Amazon gift card by email. I’ll be drawing that lucky winner tonight (Wednesday, December 3) at 10 pm EST. Be sure to check out all of the other stories, too, because there are some lovely folks who’ve contributed some really interesting stories. I am quite honored to be in such company! Oh, and here’s the link to my story!
This is part of what I hope to be an ongoing series, A Girl Out of the Country. Suburbia still mystifies me sometimes.
Y’all, I do not know what to do with the landscaping in front of my house. It’s out of control. Livingston is going to look for Stanley. Bears will hibernate behind the crepe myrtles. Naturalists will want to declare it some kind of preserve.
I grew up in the country. Your lawn was whatever happened to grow around your house and included clover, dandelions, wild onions, and who knows what else. Cultivation was for practical things, like gardens that produced oh-I-don’t-know…food. I don’t really feel that my development was in any way impaired by not having a lawn that could double as a tiny golf course, and I can’t muster much enthusiasm for plants that don’t do anything but continue to grow in ways that annoy the snot out of me.
The other folks in my subdivision do not seem to have these conflicted feelings. I watch people pick weeds out of their lawn by hand. Y’all, I would rather spend my time reading a book, and I hope that doesn’t make me some combination of lazy and selfish. Life is short. I mean, how much time and money are these people spending on keeping their sickly Bermuda green and their lawns and pine islands meticulously maintained? Do they have retirement plans? Do they not take vacations? What the what? Why with the perfect lawns?
Helpful folks have told me to put my children to work. Yes, I do need to put my children to work. 1) I don’t want them to reach adulthood and have their minds boggled by the enigma that is the suburban lawn. 2) They’re dangerously close to a lazy entitlement that will not serve them well later in life. 3) I’m tired of doing that sh*t myself, and I’m obviously not very good at it. Here’s the problem with the put the children to work theory: the last time I tried to get the weeds out of the front, I poked myself all to hell with the briars.
On the one hand, I’m happy to report our house was built on a rock. On the other hand, that rock has but the thinnest veneer of red clay and the land where our house sits has to have been used as a pasture. We have special weeds. Thorns were biting into my fingers through my leather gloves. My hoe is dull from my attempts to get rid of them that way. Now the sons of biscuit eaters are growing THROUGH my shrubs.
As if that’s not bad enough, blackberry bushes, honeysuckle, and other assorted bushes are encroaching upon my backyard. What the heck am I supposed to do with that? Invest in a machete? It’s not like I have a bushhog, and it would take about a tanker truck of RoundUp. I’m pretty sure that’s not good for the environment.
Hollywood, I need you to buy the movie rights to one of my novels so I can hire a nice person to take care of my lawn—and a maid, but a discussion of my deficiencies as a housekeeper can wait for another day. I will love them and squeeze them and call them George One and George Two, because, clearly, I’m neither a dedicated housekeeper nor up for the kind of lawn maintenance required for the Kingdom of Suburbia.
What’s the story, Morning Glories? What’s your schedule for maintaining these pristine lawns of yours. I guess I need to know this until I can move back out to the boondocks.
On Monday I talked a bit about why I believe it’s important to give back. Now I’m going to get specific.
Once upon a time, I was an unpublished author in Georgia Romance Writers. I had already made the transition from thinking “surely I can write a romance. Those have to be easy!” to “Wow, this is really challenging. I want to learn more.” I’d joined GRW, took a child-bearing sabbatical, and rejoined. I was paying particular attention to Tanya Michaels because she’d written both women’s fiction AND romance, something that I wanted to do. I picked up her books and gained even more appreciation for her. Then I ran into her at our local PTA meeting, and she turned to her daughter and said, “This is Miss Sally. She’s a writer just like me.”
Wow. Just like me.
Keep in mind that this was the 2007-2008 school year. I hadn’t even written The Happy Hour Choir yet. I had finished at least four manuscripts, but not a one was going anywhere. I didn’t even have a contest final under my belt. Tanya, meanwhile, had just published her women’s fiction debut and was on the cusp of a four book series with Harlequin. She had to have had at least twenty books under her belt, Maggie wins, RITA nominations. There are many authors who wouldn’t have seen an unpublished author they barely knew as a writer “just like me.”
Since I lived so nearby (and had a propensity for calling her and asking her about her experiences with the school system when my son managed to get suspended from first grade), she asked me if I would find being her PAL. In Georgia Romance Writer speak, a PAL is someone who reads the book and plugs it on behalf of the author. I happily agreed. Then I helped her out with some PTSA stuff. Eventually, we started critiquing together and hanging out together since we have kids in the same grade and, more importantly, because we both sing the song of the geek.
Then I found out I wasn’t the only author Tanya has helped. She has invited unpublished authors for lunch. She has participated in the Gin Ellis Workshop (a meeting where published authors critique manuscripts of the unpublished in preparation of the chapter contest, the Maggies) almost every year, has judged the Maggies, and has served on both the chapter board and the national board. Even more importantly, she makes a point of seeking out authors in whom she sees potential. She’s referred two authors that I know of to her agent. Her agent passed on both of us, but we’re both published—or about to be.
So I’ve been nominating Tanya Michaels every year that I could for the Nancy Knight Award. If it were just me she’d helped, that would be one thing. I don’t think she has a clue how many critiques she’s given, how many words of inspiration in workshops, how many little pick-me-up gifts, or how many simple words of encouragement she’s given her fellow writers. That’s the kind of mentorship I think Nancy Knight meant when she said published authors owed it to those coming up behind us.
Nancy herself has done so much more than I’ll ever know. She’s taught classes, stepped in to take extra critiques, and has always been encouraging in a very honest, tough love sort of way. She definitely inspired Tanya who mere seconds before winning the award leaned over to me and whispered, “Can I be like Nancy when I grow up?”
Last thoughts on the subject: when I say that I feel those of us who get a book published owe it to those coming up behind us, I don’t necessarily mean we should edit their manuscripts for them or automatically take them over to meet our agents. If newbies are looking for that sort of relationship, then they need to find another organization. Mentoring relationships should be allowed to grow organically. Just as agents can really only pitch work that they feel strongly about, authors can only get behind the authors and works that speak to them.
Newbies, be open. Help out where you can. Every published author would appreciate book reviews. Make sure you honestly love the book, though–don’t do these things for mercenary purposes. Also, you can help out your writing organizations by using your other skills. Expert in web sites? Offer to be the chapter’s web mistress. Good at money? Offer to be treasurer. Excellent salesperson? Ask to work on promotions for the local contest or chapter. Along the way, you’ll meet all kinds of authors, both published and un. Some of your fellow newbies will be just as valuable to you as any published author, and the relationships you cultivate with published authors will be organic and genuine. You know, you can’t hurry love, and you shouldn’t hurry your book to publication, either.
So that’s why I’m so proud of Tanya Michaels for winning the Nancy Knight Award. That’s why I’m so appreciative of every piece of advice, warmth, and encouragement I’ve gleaned from Nancy herself. That’s why I want to do my best to help those writers who are just starting down the road to publication.
Sometimes I’m reminded of exactly how hard it is to have a philosophical discussion on Twitter. Especially while simultaneously conducting my presidential duties of tweeting Maggie winners. One thing I am thankful for? Followers who respectfully question the things I tweet. The other night I tweeted something Nancy Knight said (Once you make it to publication, you owe it to the folks behind you to help you out.) Now, my apologies to Nancy because that is one statement she made out of context, and just the sort of statement that might inspire us but shouldn’t be taken as a blanket rule for writers everywhere. Before I give my philosophy on the subject, let me give you the opportunity to read through the mish-mash of tweets I collected. (Any apologies to Tiffany, Cyndy, Voirey, and Karen–I tried to be true to the convo but, damn, we all tweet a lot, and I may have missed something important) Here’s a taste of our discussion on The “Obligation” of the Published Author.
I’m a huge believe in giving back. This philosophy extends to everything I do. For example, I had a truly horrible first year as a teacher, so I went to every newbie after me and offered to help them in every way I could. Most were more than deserving of the tiny bit of assistance I could offer. Some didn’t want or need my help. Some didn’t deserve my help. This is how I approach writing books, too. Unfortunately, getting a book published is about a million-gazillion times more complex than helping a new teacher settle in–and teaching ain’t exactly a cake walk. Here are just a few of things you have to consider:
- legal ramifications–what if someone steals your idea or accuses you of stealing theirs?
- professionalism–what if you introduce someone to an editor or agent only to have them act like an ass?
- time–most of us have a finite supply and can’t give it all up to critiquing, judging, mentoring, etc
- toxic relationships–what if the person you try to assist turns out to be crazy pants? or to reflect badly on you in front of the very small world of editors and agents?
- parasitic relationships–what if the person ends up wanting all of your help without offering any sort of assistance in return?
Y’all. Those are just the things I can think of off the top of my head.
So why in heaven’s name would anyone want to help out a new author? And what does that even mean?
Primarily, I think as a published author, each person should do what he or she is comfortable doing, which may be nothing. In my case, I entered contests and critiques, so I offer to judge contests and critiques. Now, there may come a time when I have to stop doing this. The publishing world is ever changing. Many published authors have already been advised against judging or critiquing; some have been expressly forbidden by their publishers. At one point, one of my published partners was afraid she might have to stop critiquing with me because I wasn’t published yet. I hate these sorts of blanket edicts, but I can understand where the publisher is coming from. All it takes is one law suit from one cracked pot, and–suddenly–they are out a ton of money. This, along with the behavior of some newbie writers, is why the rest of us can’t have nice things.
When we agree to help someone, we’re putting our own image on the line. Since I’m not exactly the most, um, polished person you will ever meet, I am SO, SO grateful to each and every author friend who has introduced me to an editor, agent, or fellow author. Thank you. I hope I haven’t embarrassed you too much. To each and every contest judge–even the ones who hated me–thank you for taking time out of your schedule to help me. To each and every successful writer out there who chats with me on Twitter, thank you for not running for the hills. And to anyone who wonders if I only did something nice because I want something? Don’t even worry about it. That is SO not how I roll. If I do something nice, it’s because I want to. The end.
So, now I’m in the position where people actually ask me for advice. I’m quite newly in the position of giving back. Having so recently transferred from a position of receiving advice to giving it, let me share some advice* for newbies that will hopefully keep published authors hanging around a little longer:
1. No one owes you anything. Yeah, yeah, I know what Nancy said. But that word “owe” is for those of us who’ve worked hard and simply can’t imagine not paying it forward. Not every author feels this way. Not every author should feel this way. If you walk into a writing group and say something like “But the reason for the published authors is to help the rest of us get published” then you aren’t going to make many friends much less cultivate relationships with anyone who could be a mentor. You’re going to those meetings to observe and learn. If someone offers to assist you, say thank you and try not to ask for more than was offered.
2. Expect to start your critiquing career with other unpublished writers. I think a lot of newbies enter a group thinking they’ll be paired with a NYT Bestseller who will show them the ropes. Oh, no. Expect to work with different writers, most of whom are at about your writing level. Expect to move on from some relationships and never take it personally. Finding a critique partner is kinda like finding a spouse, and you’ll have to do some dating before your find a soul mate. Now, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to critique with people whose ability is above yours. I have been lucky enough to work with many folks whose work I consider better than my own. Everyone I critique with now got published before I did, and with good reason.
3. Kill that ugly green monster. The sooner you get rid of your professional jealousy, the happier and more successful you will be. I’m not going to lie and tell you I didn’t go through a “why is that person published and I’m not” phase where I thought my own work was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I will tell you, however, that my work didn’t start improving until I stopped focusing so much on all the ways I thought I was right and instead started looking for the places I fell short. When I found my weaknesses and started working to improve them, I could honestly and genuinely be happy for the folks who were published before me. Honest to goodness, I am so proud of Anna Steffl, Jenni McQuiston, and Romily Bernard, just to name a few. By the time each one started putting out books, I was nothing but joyful for their successes and proud to have been a part, however miniscule.
4. Life ain’t fair and neither is publishing. There’s some bestseller out there whose work you hate. There’s at least one writer friend of yours–and maybe you’re the person–who either hasn’t been published or hasn’t been recognized for the awesome work they do. I’m sorry. That’s the way it is. All you can do is what Tiffany Reisz said: when you read something awesome tell someone about it.
5. Patience. There’s no shortcut, no magic pill, no secret handshake. Even if you take matters into your own hands and self-publish, the act of putting your work on a web site doesn’t mean you’re going to be an overnight bestseller. Chances are you’ll be lucky to end up with a royalty check for sixty-seven cents. I happen to have this on good authority.
5. Learn to consider the source. When you start out, it’s going to be hard to tell which advice givers actually know what they’re talking about. In a time when it’s relatively easy to get your work out there, lots of folks have suddenly become experts. This isn’t to say that traditionally published authors are the only keepers of the magic knowledge. Some of those writers have become disenfranchised and discontent and are just as confused about what’s going on as you or I would be.
6. Put on your big girl panties and take your criticism. Let’s say you don’t like the comments on your latest contest entry or what your most recent critique partner said. I hate to break it to you–mainly because it means I’m going to have to heed my own advice–there’s probably at least a grain of truth to anything that was said. If your reader is confused, it doesn’t matter how many times you think you explained the main character has an allergy to pumpernickel. One exception to this rule? If anyone writes something like “you need to look into a critique partner” when you already have three or says “you can’t write so give up,” then you should ignore those comments. You should report the last one to the coordinator of the contest. If it’s an editor or agent? Query someone else, although I haven’t run across any editors or agents who would even say something like that.
7. You gotta give to get. I’m a big believer in volunteerism. In Georgia Romance Writers, I’ve been on the conference committee (promo and editor/agent coordinator), served as PRO LIaison, Corresponding Secretary, Conference Co-Chair, Vice-President of Programs, and now President. Have I been tremendously effective? I’ve done my best–how about that. Word of caution? Volunteer because you honestly want to be helpful. If it’s all about you, it’s going to show. If you don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to do a job properly, then skip it. That said, I’ve met all of my critique partners through volunteering. I met my editor while working on the conference. I learned about my agent through one of my aforementioned critique partners. I don’t know if I believe in karma per se, but I believe being nice and genuinely helpful will get you quite a ways in this old world even when it feels like only the brash and selfish are getting anywhere.
So that’s pretty much what I have to say on giving back. Any other thoughts from either perspective?
Oh, and tune in next time when I’ll talk a little bit about the Nancy Knight Award and why it’s important to me.
*Advice is another word for opinion. My father has a saying for this: “Opinions are like a$$holes, everyone’s got one.” Please keep this in mind when I dispense advice. Or when anyone else does for that matter.