Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Writing Southern Fiction - Guest Post and Giveaway by Author Elaine Drennon Little

Today I am honored to feature a guest post by Elaine Drennon Little, author of A Southern Place. I asked if she could share her thoughts on writing southern fiction, and as a North Carolina gal who first discovered the likes of Flannery O'Connor and Pat Conroy in high school, I was not disappointed. Enjoy!

Southern Fiction

While my husband attended law school in Macon, Georgia in the mid-80s, I juggled quite a few interesting jobs: special education teacher, church music director, private piano and/or voice teacher, freelance newspaper reporter, and file clerk for a home alarm system company, to name a few. However, my favorite of all was shelving books at the Shurling Branch Public Library, housed in a strip mall.

I actually did more; I catalogued incoming magazines, put the daily newspapers on the “stick,” and made phone calls to both delinquent patrons. But shelving books was my favorite of duties: it took me to parts of the library where I’d never have ventured before.

Did you know that Isaac Asimov has books in practically every section of the library? Sure, I knew about the big non-fiction science texts, and maybe some of his science fiction, but from shelving books, I learned about his crime novels, joke books, weight-loss guides, and even cookbooks. How about The Complete Guides to both Shakespeare and the Bible? My favorites, of course, were on the lighter side: Lecherous Limericks 1 & 2, Too Gross Limericks, Limericks for Kids, and (drum roll here!) a one-of-a-kind treatise entitled The Sensuous Dirty Old Man. Need I say more?

It was on one of my around-the-library-with-the-book-cart treks that I discovered the special area I would dream about for the rest of my life: a lone singular shelf covered in houseplants bore a worn rectangular sign proclaiming “Southern Fiction.”

I had read every Pat Conroy book every written; he was what God sent when Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell wrote no more. But it was from that shelf that I met new friends I would treasure forever—Clyde Edgerton, Lee Smith, Anne Rivers Siddons, and Ferrol Sams. I formed a make-believe friendship with Jill McCorkle and Kaye Gibbons, and I swore that my father was the protagonist in Olive Ann Burns’ Cold Sassy Tree. Most of all, this wonderful little section of localized fiction gave credence to the fact that my insignificant life, with no great adventures or astounding contributions to mankind, just might be worth writing about.

In a recent interview for south Georgia newspaper The Albany Herald, editor Jim Hendricks went right to the heart of the matter with me.

“The writing bug goes a long way back. In high school, her English teacher, Virginia Jones, often urged her to write a book, Little said. “I thought that you had to have all these adventures first, had to have lived in the south of France,” she said. “I really didn’t have anything to write about. I had to live for a while before I had a perspective. I still can’t write about Paris, France, or the south of France, but I can write about what I know.”

These wonderful southern authors, with hearts as big as the Mississippi, drove home these stories of the plight of man with the wit and wisdom of the literary greats, yet they did so through conversations as common as a Sunday dinner in my native Newton, Georgia. They spoke MY language, and it was accepted (and loved) despite home-grown life and deep south idiosyncrasies I’d thought I needed to hide. If the world could handle the voices of Rainey, Ivy Rowe, and Virginia Turner Ballard, perhaps one day they’d listen to me.

I’ve been a bookworm all my life, and I’ve had my varied affairs with biographies, self-help, crime dramas, and book-of-the-month-club picks. There are a few authors I say I’ll never read again, only to find each new volume hidden in my grocery cart as soon as they hit the Kroger shelves. But those books are read and then given away, donated, or resold at yard sales. My collection of southern fiction is now even bigger than the one at the Shurling Library, so many years ago. It’s a part of me, and it’s staying.

There’s one big difference now: Between Harper Lee and Bret Lott is a slim, soft-cover volume with “Little” on the spine. And I’m hoping there will be many more.

Southern Fiction is the genre that drew me back to that long ago dream of writing. It the genre I enjoy reading most, but it’s also the one place in which I feel every author is speaking to me, personally. Is there an author (or authors) that whisper in your ear? Who? How long? Why?

Perhaps I’m not alone…

About the book:
A Southern Place is a moving book that is expertly written! Mary Jane Hatcher--everyone calls her Mojo--is beat up bad. She's in the ICU of Phoebe Putney, the largest hospital in South Georgia, barely able to talk. How Mojo goes from being that skinny little girl in Nolan, a small forgotten town along the Flint River, to the young woman now fighting for her life, is where this story begins and ends.

Mojo, her mama Delores and her Uncle Calvin Mullinax, like most folks in Nolan, have just tried to make the best of it. Of course, people aren't always what they seem, and Phil Foster--the handsome, spoiled son of the richest man in the county--is no exception.

As the story of the Mullinax family unfolds, Mojo discovers a family's legacy can be many things: a piece of earth, a familiar dwelling, a shared bond. And although she doesn't know why she feels such a bond with Phil Foster, it is there all the same, family or not. And she likes to think we all have us a fresh start. Like her mama always said, the past is all just water under the bridge. Mojo, after going to hell and back, finally comes to understand what that means.

Paperback: 294 Pages
Publisher: WiDo Publishing (August 6, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1937178390
Twitter hashtag: #ASPLittle

A Southern Place is available as a print and e- book at Amazon.

About the Author:
Adopted at birth, Elaine lived her first twenty years on her parents’ agricultural farm in rural southern
Georgia. She was a public school music teacher for twenty-seven years, and continued to dabble with sideline interests in spite of her paid profession. Playing in her first band at age fourteen, she seemed to almost always be involved in at least one band or another. Elaine’s writing began in high school, publishing in local newspapers, then educational journals, then later in online fiction journals. In 2008 she enrolled in the MFA program at Spalding University in Louisville, where upon graduation finished her second novel manuscript. Recently retiring after eleven years as a high school chorus and drama director, Elaine now lives in north Georgia with her husband, an ever-growing library of used books, and many adopted animals.

Find out more about this author by visiting her online:

Author blog: http://elainedrennonlittle.wordpress.com/

Author Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/elaine.d.little

I have one copy of A Southern Place to give away to a lucky reader! To enter, please use the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!

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Monday, August 26, 2013

The Social Media Spiral

Oh look, a shot of me on vacation checking my phone!
My name is Renee and I am a social media junkie. In this day and age, it's hard not to be. I am attracted to social media sites for a number of reasons. One, I work from home, and there are times I just need to interact with another human being and chatting with someone via Facebook and Twitter is about the closest I can get to a water cooler. I also use social media sites for book and article research and to promote the latest issue of the magazine I edit or announce a giveaway on this blog.

I've been on Facebook forever but resisted LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter for the longest time. But over the past few years, I've reluctantly signed up, mostly because I know if I ever want to become a published novelist, I'll need to expand my professional network and those sites are the quickest ways I can do that.

But I will admit that these sites sometimes send me plummeting into moments of envy and self-pity, and I hate feeling that way. I came across an interesting post on Facebook the other day (of course, I get all my important news from social media sites!) and it really resonated with me.  The post was shared from the Proverbs 31 Ministries, but I think regardless of your faith, there is something we can all take away from the root of the message:

It can be so easy to roam social media sites for hours, comparing our lives to others. While there are some really neat and helpful ideas/recipes/tips for sure . . . sometimes envy, feelings of failure and dejection set in.

I am guilty of this. Scrolling through Pinterest I start to feel ashamed that my kitchen is in dire need of updating, my bedroom isn't picture perfect and I'll never be able to decorate the perfect birthday cake for my kids. Looking at my news feed on Facebook I wonder if I'll ever be able to travel to some of the tropical destinations my friends are visiting and Twitter sends me into a spiral of depression because I'm not working hard enough to publish a book.

I'm glad I came across the Proverbs 31 Ministries message, even if I did have to do it via social media. Every couple of months I take a break from social media sites and give myself a breather. I concentrate on my work projects and spend much needed time with my family. In fact, my husband and I have a trip planned next month and the place we are staying is in the mountains and has no wi-fi. He's thrilled, and I'm glad I'll be forced to spend time breathing the fresh air and not checking my iPhone. If you're feeling overwhelmed by social media, I recommend you do the same!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Are You Invested in Your Writing Career?

"I saw the
dollar signs, man" at Santa Monica

If someone had asked me this about four years ago, I would have said "Of course I am!" But I really would have been lying with that response. Yes, I was invested to some extent, in my writing career. I was pitching articles frequently, networking with other writers and taking on contract jobs that helped me gain more experience. And I was taking the leap and beginning to write fiction.

You know that old saying "you have to spend money to make money?" There is a lot of truth to it, especially if you are trying to make money as a writer. The conundrum is that most writers starting out don't have a whole lot of money to invest--often they've left salaried positions to pursue their writing dreams and have a hard time justifying any outside expenses. I used to be the same way.

You have to find a happy medium, though. This time last year I considered investing in a pricey online MFA program because I thought it might help my career in the future. Eventually, I decided that option wasn't right for me and researched other ways I could learn and grow as a writer without breaking the bank. In the past year, I paid the membership dues and joined a professional organization I've been eyeing for a few years, signed up for two writing conferences and took an online children's writing course so I could get feedback on a young adult novel I've been working on. I just sent another manuscript I've been working on to a professional editor so I can get a better idea of where I need to expand the book.

Do I have a lot of extra money to do this? No, not really. I have contract work that helps me pay the bills but I'm still stretched tight. I've been using money from one of my side writing/public relations gigs to help me pay for these extra expenses and I consider that money well spent. I no longer feel like I'm writing in a vacuum and am becoming more comfortable in sharing my work with others. I've also met so many great colleagues along the way! I'm confident that these are necessary steps to take on my path to becoming a published novelist.

I'm curious to know how you've invested in your career and if it has paid off yet. Please share!

Photo credit: Rohan Travellin via Flickr.com

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wintergirls Hits Home

"Dead girl walking," the boys say in the halls.
"Tell us your secret," the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

The YA book Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson has been recommended to me by friends, but I kept putting it off reading because I knew the subject matter a little too well and quite frankly, I was scared. I finally got a hold of a copy last week and spent two days immersed in the world of anorexia, hoping the main character Lia would be able to pull herself from the tight grasp of the illness in time.

Girls are a fickle bunch. I know this personally. It doesn't get any easier the older you get. Anderson's tale of Lia and Cassie illustrates this well. The two girls were childhood friends, but they also fed off each other's insecurities, secretly competing with the help of anorexia and bulimia until Cassie's body couldn't hold out any longer.

The imagery in this book will haunt you. You will find yourself wondering if the things Lia describes are real or the result of Lia's starvation:

Gray faces crowd the red leaves. The ghosts want to taste me. Their hands snake out, fingers open wide. I walk quickly, moving out of the reach of their sticky shadows. As I pass under a streetlight, the bulb pops and I smell burnt sugar. Her.

Fortunately for me, I never got to that point. Today, I have a healthy relationship with food and exercise, and I'm committed to making sure my daughter does too, especially as she gets older. I don't remember much about the lowest number on the scale, except that it was about 85 or 90 pounds at the age of 19. It could have been so much worse. I'm lucky I had people who cared about me and made sure I knew I was loved. I'm lucky I made the decision not to shut everyone out and keep starving, as much as I wanted to.

One thing I've learned is this. It's difficult, impossible almost, to recover from an eating disorder until you are ready. For me, I had to ultimately make the decision that I wanted to live, even if it meant feeling pain, as Lia describes:

I breathe in slowly. Food is life. I exhale, take another breath. Food is life. And that's the problem. When you're alive, people can hurt you. It's easier to crawl into a bone cage or a snowdrift of confusion. It's easier to lock everybody out. But it's a lie.

I hope one day I can write a compelling story that tackles an issue as important as this one. Don't we all?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Guest Post and Giveaway from Eric Trant, Author of Wink

Today I am excited to welcome Eric Trant, author of the new thriller, Wink (#WINK). Eric has written a great post for us titled "Author Intrusion: Good or Bad?" Check it out below and see how you can win your own copy of Wink!

Author Bio:

Eric W. Trant is a published author of several short stories, including "Apple Tree" and "One Small Step," and the novels Out of the Great Black Nothingand Wink.

Eric is an advocate for organ donation and lost his 18-month-old-son in May of 2012. Eric and his wife courageously donated their son’s heart, kidneys, and liver. The couple went on to begin a foundation to support organ donor families. Eric speaks openly about this emotional journey on his blog and the topic of organ donation is very close to his heart.

Find out more about the author by visiting him online:

Author website: www.EricTrant.com

Author blog: http://diggingwiththeworms.blogspot.com/

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/eric.trant.9

Book Summary:
A moving, fast-paced and incredibly emotional story about love, friendship and transformation.

In this thriller set in a rural Gulf Coast town, Marty Jameson finds refuge in the attic from his mother's abusive rages. But only during the day. At night the attic holds terrors even beyond what he witnesses in his home. With a family made up of a psychotic mother, a drug-dealing father and a comatose older brother withering away in the spare bedroom, Marty feels trapped.

Next door, wheel-chair bound Sadie Marsh obsessively watches Marty's comings and goings from her bedroom window, despite her mother's warning about the evil in that house. Evil which appears to Sadie as huge black-winged creatures.

Marty, emotionally torn by the violence and dysfunction in his family, is drawn to Sadie and her kindly mother. But if he is to save his new friend from the supernatural horror threatening them all, Marty must transform himself from victim to hero. And to do so, he must first confront what lurks hidden in the shadows of his attic.

Wink is a thriller that captivates readers and leaves them longing for more. Trant is a talented author whose character descriptions go far beyond the physical.

Paperback: 275 pages

Publisher: WiDo Publishing (May 7, 2013)

ISBN: 193717834X

ISBN-13: 978-1937178345


Twitter hashtag: #WINK

Wink is available as a print and e-book at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Guest Post:
First off, what the heck is Author Intrusion, and why is it capitalized? I'm not sure why I capitalized it, and there isn't a good and hearty and reliable definition that I've found. As readers and authors we all have our ideas of what Author Intrusion is and what it ain't. Whatever definition, AI occurs when theauthor interrupts the reader, or tosses them. I prefer the term tossing the reader, because that is what I do when an author tosses me -- I toss their book across the room (or the more modern term, 'Remove from Device').

Now, the thing that tosses you that tosses the book that launches it across the room is AuthorIntrusion. For each of us that ignition signal which initiates the countdown begins with something different. I recall a series of books that I loved -- LOVED -- until the author fell in love with the heroine. The hero was a strong and strapping man in the first few books, and the heroine was not at all weak, but she was balanced with him and they were this great Luke and Leia pair of parallel heroes, each bringing to the story an aspect of manhood and womanhood respectively. Then about the third or fourth book he fell in love with the heroine. He doted on her with extra words, extra scenes, went on and on about how pretty she was, and my brother and I discussed it and realized he was in love with the heroine! He weakened the hero out of what we decided was jealousy to the point of him becoming an almost pathetic and bumbling nuisance.

I launched that last book (paperback, see) and have not picked up something since from unsaidauthor. He betrayed me. He intruded on ~my~ story.

So don't do that. Keep a professional distance between you and your characters and let them be who they will be, love die live and hate. Let them be! Do not intrude! Bad author!

I know, that's one example, falling in love with your characters, and here is another common one. Don't get too political. If your character has a set of beliefs, let them believe what they will. Do not make them into a pathetic and bumbling nuisance just because you do not share their beliefs. Be true to them and they will be true to the reader. If you want to become a pundit for a particular party or religion, go ahead, but remember you will alienate half your readers, enrage the other half, and the ones who are left will be people you do not want to meet in the dark back corners of your local library book signing.

Aside from falling in love with and imposing your beliefs on your characters, another thing authorsintrude upon is the action with long diatribes, soliloquies, and philosophical discussions. Now on this point I have a mixed opinion. Executed properly, you ~can~ intrude successfully here. Yes, sayeth I, GoodAuthor!

A fine example of Author Intrusion successfully delivered is just about any Heinlein book you read, or Hemingway, or McCarthy. If you want a modern example, watch a Tarantino movie, or read Life of Pi and The Art of Racing in the Rain. These writers pause the action for lengthy philosophical discussions between characters that often have no bearing on anything in the story other than the author wants to express to the reader a particular set of beliefs, or relate a funny or interesting side-story. This is AuthorIntrusion, and if written properly it can draw the reader deeper into the story almost as if the characters popped out of the book (or movie) and sat beside you and looked you in the eye and said, Heya Buddy, let me tell you a story.

As an author, you need to understand when your little voice is intruding into the story, and either rein it in or cut it loose and let it roam. It is a powerful tool when properly employed. Note my positive examples are from wildly successful authors with a penchant for the literary aspect of writing. When it is improperly used, though, it is a tool of destruction that will only alienate your readers. All in all it should be used with conscious caution, because a little whisper in the reader's ear from the author's tongue can have that lingering effect we all want as authors, which is that question: When is the next book coming out!? And whose tongue is in my ear?

What about you? Can you think of examples of Author Intrusion, or why it should be capitalized? Do you think it is something to employ, or avoid at all costs?

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