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Sally Kilpatrick

My Weirdest Plot Bunny

Better Get to Livin’–available May 31st! Chock-full of ghosts! Most of them are friendly!

Back in January I broke with the program to talk about 42 things I’ve learned in 42 years. This month I’m going to go back and hit upon my weirdest plot bunny because it’s a doozy.

I’m pretty sure that the idea for Better Get to Livin’ started germinating back when I was a high school senior. As first chair trumpet, sometimes Mr. Fentress Casey–best name for a funeral director ever–would come to get me to play taps* for military funerals. It says something about small towns that such absences were never unexcused. I mean, someone needed to play taps, didn’t they?

The perks of being the taps girl was that I would get to skip class and I would get paid to do it. The downside–at least for many–would be that I often rode to the cemetery in the hearse. While waiting for the procession to start, I also had to cool my jets in the back kitchen of the funeral home listening to the insanely slow chime version of “When the Roll Is Called up Yonder”** and speculate on what it was like to be a funeral director, whether there were any ghosts hanging around Casey’s, and what might be behind the door that I knew led to the embalming area.

Oddly enough, I think I forget just how much the idea of funeral homes creep so many people out because the experience at Casey was never all bad when I was there with my family. Sure, I was grieving. Sure, once the funeral came around I would be weeping, but visitation always proved a bright spot. Family members would take a break in that same kitchen where I used to wait, and they would tell stories, often funny ones that brought a warm glow for the person we were missing. For all of their sadness, funerals have a way of bringing people together who haven’t seen each other in a while, a nice reminder that life is short and that people are the most important part of it.

So, back to the plot bunny….

My mom sends me the local paper even though I don’t live in Henderson anymore. Ah, not only does The Independent scratch that itch for home, but I also find all kinds of great stories and ideas–especially from the “Only Yesterday” section where they pull information from past editions of the paper. One day, I got The Independent and saw that Mr. Casey had passed away. One small snippet of that story captured my imagination: Mr. Casey considered being a doctor but decided to continue on in the family’s mortuary business. That started the what ifs. What if he didn’t want to be a part of the family business? What if he had to be? What if some idiot started a rumor that kept him from finding love or even that many friendships?

This is the point where I tell you that I’ve met a few funeral directors at this point, and that they have all been fine upstanding men and women who don’t seem to have any problem falling in love. Also, I need to remind you that I totally made up the part about the bourbon parties. Everyone I have met or interviewed has been a consummate professional. (Hopefully, someone just said, “Bourbon party? I need to read this book!”)

I tried to be true. I tried to be considerate. But I also wanted the story to have southern quirk. Enter Uncle Hollis, who’s very loosely based on Teddy from Arsenic & Old Lace. Instead of a bugle, he sings Elton John songs. Enter the idea of bourbon parties. One character surprised me–I figured out that Caroline, matriarch of Anderson Funeral Home, writes romance. It’s not something I mention directly in the book, but that is the answer to one of the discussion questions in that back. That is what she’s being sneaky about: writing her first book.

The plot bunny from my high school days then led me to read books like Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Life of Cadavers and Thomas Lynch’s The Undertaking. Both of those books are especially outstanding. Through other sources, I learned all about cemeteries, the history of embalming, and the embalming process. I read up as much as I could on ghosts. As I wrote I incorporated things happening in my life at the time. For example, I went on a field trip with my son to the Pickett’s Mill battlefield so I had the Colonel, one of my ghosts, lose an arm there back in the Civil War. I’d also been reading Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations, so I made her the idol of my Hollywood ghost, Pinup Betty. You might also note several books about serial killers on the list to come. For reasons. If you are interested in some of the books I read while doing research, you can find them all on my Better Get to Livin research shelf on Goodreads.

Then my plot bunny gave birth to another plot bunny: the hearse from Better Get to Livin’ became the focal point of a novella about a group of mourners who are spreading ashes from one end of Tennessee to the other while driving around in an orange and white checkerboard hearse. Did I mention those ashes are housed in a Carmen Miranda cookie jar? You can get Orange Blossom Special on e devices in late July.

I think I’m done with hearse now.

Then again, you never know. . . .

*While we’re talking about plot bunnies, check out this post about why the military bugle call, taps, is both lowercase and not in quotation marks.

**May this be an official warning: if anyone plays any of that slow chime crap at my funeral, I will come back and haunt them. Seriously. My funeral is to be a joyous occasion. There is to be liquor, hip hop, and New Orleans jazz.



I’m Hip Deep Into Lent

It’s blogger’s choice, and I think I want to talk about. . . . Lent. (We could also spend some quality time on how much I love my new cover, but probably not today)

Why Lent? Why not. Last year I was working on the second draft of the novel that will become my fourth release from Kensington, Bless Her Heart, and the Lenten season gave me an idea to punch up the story I was writing. I already knew that my preacher’s wife was going to sample each of the Seven Deadly Sins, but what if she also gave up church for Lent? That lead to this scene:

By this point in the Ash Wednesday service the minister had moved on to Matthew. He droned on about “not looking somber as the hypocrites do” while we fasted. Finally, we got to sit down, and the sermon began. Dour-faced Reverend Ford spoke about the traditions of Lent, the excesses of Fat Tuesday as exemplified by Mardi Gras—that actually sounded fun. He admonished his flock to make sacrifices that would bring them closer to God but pointed out that sometimes it was better to add something to your routine rather than to just give something up. He talked about his preteen daughter giving up soft drinks and how his wife vowed to get up fifteen minutes earlier each day for a devotion.

In essence, we were to find something that hampered us for being the best person we could be and to either add something to address it or to give something up if it held us back. If you drank too much, then give up alcohol. If television kept you from your family, then give that up. If you were unhappy about your physical health, add an exercise regime. The sky was the limit, he said, as long as we examined ourselves and looked at what was holding us back and keeping us from being the person God intended us to be.

Maybe Chad should look into giving up profligate spending and adultery.

No, I needed to think about myself. Not Chad. Chad would mean nothing to me just as soon as I could figure out how to divorce him. I needed to think on myself and what I needed to do because Liza was right: I wasn’t happy.

What could I give up—or add—for Lent? My husband? Nah, he’d taken himself away. Having a baby? That had been taken from me, too. Chocolate? Too trivial in comparison to the other two. What was something I had too much of, something that made me unhappy because it wasn’t good for me. Something—


The word came to me as if the Lord himself had whispered it, but I knew that couldn’t be the case. Why would God tell me to give up church? That made absolutely no sense. Of course, church did remind me of Chad, and I needed to stop thinking about him so it made sense in a crazy, weird sort of way.

Come to think of it, Chad hadn’t believed in Lent or giving things up. He said that was something Catholics did.

Heck, if Chad thought it was a bad idea, then maybe it was the absolute best idea for me.

If I still missed God after forty days, I could always come back to the fold. Maybe I could even find a different fold, one that better suited me. Having the bank foreclose on Love Ministries might end up being one of the best things to ever happen to me because now I was forced to look for another job and, goodness knew, I hadn’t been doing anything more than stumble through life the past few years.

But giving up church? That’s so. . . wrong.

And what has doing all of the right things done for you?

We’ve just begun Lent, an interesting religious ritual that I’d never really heard of until I started attending the Wesley Foundation at the Unversity of Tennessee. This concept of giving something up was completely new. And daunting. Over the years I’ve given up Cokes, alcohol, desserts. One year—and that was the most painful—I made myself get up 15 minutes earlier than the required time. The idea was to read from a devotional. If I couldn’t do that, at least I had made myself get up instead of hitting the snooze button. I’d love to tell you that habit stuck, but it did not. (It did, you will note from the excerpt, give me a trait that I could give to another character, though. Poor thing.)

This year I’m fasting from social media. When I kinda got meaner than I should have on Fat Tuesday then I knew it was time to take a break. In my defense, I don’t have time for anyone who is mean to my friends. I am not here for that. Either way, I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t want me to call people delusional on the Book of Face. Even if the person in question clearly is. Wait. What? Did I say that? Clearly I need to atone some more.

At any rate, if you don’t see me on Twitter or Facebook, it’s because I’m allowing myself only 30 minutes a day. I think my mental health is improving a little. Besides, it gives me more time to write my Congresspeople.

Now, here is my challenge for you: what is something you can write about that others might not think about? Ever thought about having a book center on Lent? Or the Cokesbury Hymnal? Or death by fire ants? Or a funeral home? Is there anything that you know a little something about that would bring a unique perspective to what you write? Readers, help us out and tell us about some of the most unique premises you have come across.

Oh, and my husband’s dreams of being my houseboy would be dashed if I didn’t mention that Bless Her Heart is now available for preorder at



Barnes & Noble

soon to be FoxTale, the keepers of the shot glasses




Now that I’m 42, I have the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything,” right? Probably not, but in honor of my birthday, here are 42 things I’ve learned so far in life:

  • Tortilla chips have A LOT of calories.
  • Elementary school math is hard.
  • Helpful cats are (not) helpful.
  • Some people are just sorry.
  • Most people are awesome.
  • Professional jealousy is not only a waste of time but also detrimental to your career and general well-being.
  • I have privilege; I need to look for ways to help people who don’t.
  • You’re never too good to move chairs.
  • Parenting is hard
  • Parenting is rewarding.
  • I really need to stop procrastinating. (I say as I type this post the night before it’s due)
  • No experience is wasted if you learn something from it—even a trip to the DMV.
  • Find home repair businesses over in Hiram or Paulding County rather than metro Atlanta. (My shout out to Ragsdale who’s helped me with HVAC, plumbing, and recommending the person I needed to fix my gas fireplace)
  • Traveling is better than new furniture.
  • Experiences are more valuable than things.
  • I can run a marathon.
  • I shouldn’t have run a marathon.
  • What seems horrible in the moment may turn out to be for the best in the end.
  • Treat every Christmas with your loved ones as if it might be the last. Take a moment to be grateful.
  • Life is too short for the cheap chocolate.
  • Surround yourself with good people. Be thankful if your family falls under that category.
  • It’s harder to write good comedy than good tragedy.
  • But tragedy sells better and is taken more seriously.
  • Listen for the subtle nudges of the Holy Spirit.
  • There really is no time for love, Dr. Jones.
  • I have to exercise on a regular basis. Dammit.
  • I have to call my legislators; I’ll have to call them no matter which party they represent.
  • A good story trumps beautiful writing every time.
  • As my age increases, my patience decreases.
  • If you need help, ask for it–no matter what.
  • Learn to say no.
  • But learn to say yes to the things that frighten you but are good for you.
  • Help those who come behind you. There’s no need for everyone to suffer.
  • No, it’s not fair that I have to limit myself to less than 1300 calories a day if I want to lose weight.
  • Persistence is the key to success. Never give up, never surrender!
  • As Ms. Kelley always said, believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.
  • Get a housekeeper; life is short.
  • Hummus is good; a nice red blend is better.
  • As my Daddy once told me, never take more than you can carry.
  • As my Mom always says, my rights end where the rights of others begin—and vice-versa.
  • Other people don’t use the word “heifer” correctly, and I can’t teach them.
  • Always get up sexy.



How I’m Surviving This Book That Still Isn’t Done (Not Very Well)

Since I’m in the midst of deadline myself, I thought I’d share a few of things that have kept me writing:

Conception calendar

Someone is always getting pregnant or dying in one of my books.  I found this great web site that not only allows me to put the first day of my character’s last menstrual cycle into a box and—voila!—a due date, but also goes BACKWARDS. Yes, that’s right—I can check what my character’s due date WOULD HAVE BEEN if it had been 2011 as it was in my mind while I was writing this book. You can see my favorite site so far here.

Heck, a regular calendar

In addition to pregnancy and thus the menstrual cycles of women who don’t exist, I also needed to Google when Lent and Easter occurred in 2011 because a chunk of my novel revolves around that specific time period. Once I knew when Ash Wednesday and Easter occurred, then I constructed a mini-calendar that then became even more important when I had to add the number of days required to get a divorce in the state of Tennessee. See below for another hack with Scrivener.

Friends who (drink and) know things 

So not all of these people may drink, but I adore Tyrion and therefore had to title this section thus. I had many people reach out to me about how filing for divorce works. Bless you, ladies. Tina Whittle was kind enough to reverse engineer a Tarot reading for me and to then read the scene to make sure I had it right. In the past I’ve had veterinarians, lawyers, ministers, funeral directors, and actresses all weigh in on what my characters should be doing. What can I say? I get by with a little help from my friends.


I adore this program, and I don’t even know all of its functionality yet. Here are a few of the reasons I love Scrivener:

  • It doesn’t crash like Word did. (knocks fervently on wood)
  • There’s a Notes view where I can put my thoughts in a box to the right and see them no matter which chapter I’m in. I use it to collect dropped threads, changes that will need to be implemented throughout the whole manuscript, and the beat sheet of events.
  • The find function is awesome because you can use it for a chapter OR for the entire manuscript. I sometimes also use the this function to find things in old manuscripts that I need to verify for new stories.
  • There’s a list of chapters on the left where you can add notes that won’t appear on the finished product. I put dates here to make sure I keep all of my characters on track and not forgetting dentist appointments on Wednesday as the author herself has been known to do.
  • You can also keep all sorts of files under research from links to dates and family trees or an acknowledgments file so I don’t forget all of the helpful people above.


I would not have made it through this year without a good pair of headphones thanks to the construction going on behind my house. I’m thinking noise canceling would’ve been the best bet, but, hey, I’m not that wealthy. Here are the ones I bought.

Me, before my new chair

Me, before my new chair

The Marshmallow Chair

Deanna Raybourn let me know about this chair. It really is a marshmallow for my butt. Also, it’s new and I haven’t broken the mechanism that allows me to adjust the height yet so it’s helped with the ergonomic situation. I’m not saying you might need an office chair update, but I’m not saying you don’t. This is the infamous marshmallow chair–I bought it on sale.

Pomodoro Method

I heard about this method and got the app. A kitchen timer would also work if you don’t want another app cluttering your phone. The idea is that you work steadily for 30 minutes then take a break AWAY FROM YOUR DESK and then come back and do it again. An advantage of the app is that it keeps up with your breaks, too. Learn more here. I can’t find my specific app–probably because I need to do updates–but here’s more on how the method works and some apps you could use.

 Auctioning off a Character Name

Back when Bless Your Heart was nothing more than a gleam in my eye, I donated the right to name a minor character in a charity auction. Then I promptly lost the contact information of the person who’d won the auction because that, apparently, is how I roll in adulthood. At any rate, I knew the character would be named Liza. Hearing the name immediately told me that Liza would be my protagonist’s best friend. Even so, her character was a little flat until the church tracked down the winner for me and we spoke a bit about the real Liza. I didn’t actually incorporate anything from the real Liza, but I found out that her celebrity crush is Chris Pratt so I made fictional Liza’s husband Owen Pratt. Last name is obvious; Owen is the first name of the character Pratt plays in Jurassic World. Incorporating little things like that tickled the lady who’d bought the character and helped me find the fun again when the fun had faltered. (I wanted to talk to her to make sure that I didn’t make something about fictional Liza painful to actual Liza because that would take all of the fun out of it.)

 Having a critique partner who gets all CAPSY

I’ve written and rewritten. There are multiple versions of this story. Sometimes, in the midst of all of

CPs who snark together, stay together.

CPs who snark together, stay together.

those changes or simply the quest for new words, I end up moving my characters from place to place without proper motivation or emotional resonance. Then there’s that conflict avoidance thing that I have to fight every time. Tanya’s comments were a breath of fresh air because she helped me see the things I couldn’t because I was so busy trying to make the story go. Our critique partners make us better but only if they’re willing to call you on the shortcuts you accidentally take.

2016 hasn’t been kind to my creative process. I have clawed and scratched to stay some semblance of on track. If any one of these helps another writer to keep his or her head above water, then my work here is done.


Meals on a Deadline

¡Happy Día de los Muertos!

I used to teach Spanish so I feel compelled to say that. I could go into the three day celebration, but we’ll stop here and talk about this month’s topic: quick meals. As luck would have it, I’m on deadline right now. The quickest meal is, of course, to order a pizza, but, hey, we all like to eat something more nutritious from time to time, so let me share a recipe or two.

Chicken Parm

Ingredients: frozen chicken tenders (I go for quality here–and they have gluten free ones now, too), spaghetti sauce, mozzarella

  1. Follow the instructions for baking the chicken tenders. I usually add spaghetti sauce right away and cook a little longer than the instructions say.
  2. Once you’re sure that chicken is done (No salmonella on my watch!) then add mozzarella cheese and put it back in until the cheese has melted.

Sally Tip: Line the baking sheet with tin foil for easier clean up.

I like to serve this dish with rice and green beans, but you could go pasta and a Steamfresh bag of broccoli, too.


You can brown ground beef, cook chicken, or even pick up the fajita meat from the meat section–all cooks quickly as long as it’s not frozen.

Sally Tip: Instead of using the salt-laden taco seasoning packet, use chili power, salt, and pepper to taste. Cooking any of the meats with onions adds a nice flavor. For ground beef, I just a jar of salsa to add flavor–it adds a bit too much water for the chicken and the steak, though.

In La Casa Kilpatrick, we round out the meat with Goya yellow rice and Goya black beans as well as corn tortillas (cuz gluten free)


Pot Roast in a crockpot is another great one if you have the prep time in the morning. I like to use a chuck roast, onions, carrots and potatoes. For the marinade I’ll mix olive oil with vinegar and montreal steak seasoning then add water so the roast doesn’t go dry. Beef broth is good to add, too.

So here’s how I do it:

  1. Brown the chuck roast on all sides.
  2. Slice onion and put some below the meat and some on top. Cut up potatoes and throw in baby carrots.
  3. Mix up marinade (see above or the London Broil marinade in the Better Homes and Gardens cook book)
  4. Set and forget–cook it on low all day long.
  5. Add a salad and eat so you can get back to writing.

Sally Tip: I use those plastic crock pot liners because I’m lazy, and I don’t like to clean things. Lord willing the cooking plastic won’t kill us all.

Hopefully, one of these three suppers will help you out in a pinch. After all, we don’t always have the money to order that pizza. I hear sandwiches and cereal work also. Anything to get back to to the laptop, am I right?

P.S. Sorry for the lack of photos, but I gotta write. Just as well since my suppers taste better than they look. *mwah*


Oh, The Places I’ll Go

Guys, I’m in a rut.*

I’m trudging along with my current book as one does, albeit at a glacial pace. This story has dug its heels in like a recalcitrant toddler. It doesn’t want to be written. I don’t want to write it. The antipathy is rather mutual. I thought today’s blog post would be about inspiration in the hopes that I might find some for my current WIP.

Attribution: RE Hawkins

Attribution: RE Hawkins

When I thought of the inspiration for my works, one thing cropped up again and again: place. Did you know that my first novel after graduating from college was inspired by a trip to the Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone, Arizona? True story. I wrote a historical western about a buckskin wearing heroine who played poker and was falsely accused of robbing the town bank.

No, you may not read it. I’m hoping it’s lost to all posterity.

My first published novel, The Happy Hour Choir, came about as I was contemplating how horrible being named Beulah Land would be if you didn’t live up to heavenly behavior. What really got the book going, however, was seeing a little cinder block bar out in the middle of nowhere. Never once have I visited that bar, but it served as my inspiration for The Fountain.

Book two, Bittersweet Creek, has a setting very near and dear to my heart. Almost none of my readers

A painting of my Granny's House

A painting of my Granny’s House

would recognize the farmhouse that belongs to the Satterfields, but, in my mind, it’s my Granny’s house. I also used several of the outbuildings, including a barn that’s no longer there. The old green house that meant so much to me will now live on in fiction, if not in reality.

Better Get to Livin’ has a unique inspiration in Casey’s Funeral Home in Henderson. Not only have I attended about a bajillion funerals there, but I also used to play “Taps” for military funerals and spent more than one afternoon cooling my jets in the back kitchen. I also included a trailer park in homage to my formative years.

The Ryman Auditorium

My novella, tentatively titled Orange Blossom Special, didn’t take off until I started envisioning places I’d been. I used Knoxville for that one, both the University of Tennessee campus and the old Tennessee Theatre. I also toured Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium over the summer so I could include it. Before I turn in the final draft, I’m going to visit General Neyland’s grave, too.

Gentle reader, as I write about these places, I realize I don’t have one for my current work in progress. Hmmm. Could it be that, in writing to you, I have stumbled upon the solution my problems? Time will tell. In the meantime, what inspires you? What do you do to refill the well? Readers, do you like to read about actual places?

*Funny story: I attended church services at a different church on Sunday, and the preacher included a line about how a rut is “a grave with the ends kicked out.” Kinda inspired me to get out of mine, if you know what I mean.

P.P.S. Important note: I will often write about places that actually exist, but I never intentionally write about people who exist. Any resemblance you might see to someone you know, is completely coincidental. Well, there is the character I quite loosely based on a dead person, but that’s another story for another day.


Your Poster Child for How NOT to be a Healthy Writer*

Here at BadGirlzWrite we have a topic from time to time, something to get those blogger juices flowing. This cycle’s topic is strategies for maintaining your mental, physical, and emotional health.

Y’all, I’m falling apart. So maybe I should tell you what NOT to do:

  1. Don’t subsist on a steady diet of coffee all day and then wine all night. As much fun as this sounds, consider the cautionary tale of Elvis, who followed a similar lifestyle of uppers and downers. We all know how that ended. Indulging in too much caffeine and too much alcohol can exacerbate adrenal fatigue. Add in a marathon, and I have a body that aches all over and extra pounds that won’t budge.
  2. Don’t freak out about your sales numbers. I have passed that task to my husband because there’s not a thing you can do about them, and what you see on Amazon doesn’t accurately reflect what’s going on anyway. Wait for your royalty statements and worry about it then.
  3. Don’t succumb to lethargy—exercise every damn day. Coming out of summer vacation, I have made it a priority to do something each day. Sometimes it’s a 20-minute walk. Sometimes it’s not. Since I have plantar fasciitis (yes, still) I’ve added swimming and am working on adding biking to my repertoire.
  4. Don’t set unrealistic goals. If you’re like me, daily goals are nigh upon impossible because each day brings doctors’ appointments, oil that needs to be changed, sick kids, who knows? It’s a grab bag of unexpectedness! If you set a weekly goal, you can attempt to compensate for those interruptions. (BTW do not ask me how I’m doing on word counts this week and last. As always, I am a work in progress.)
  5. Don’t torture yourself by sitting in the same chair day after day if the words aren’t coming. Sometimes you need a change of scenery, especially if there’s massive construction going on behind your house. Not that I would know anything about that. (I do happen to have a new set of over the ear headphones that help greatly with blocking out the noise.)
  6. Do stock the cupboards with healthy snacks. You’re going to eat while you write, and you can’t subsist on chocolate alone. I would know because I tried.
  7. Do learn what you can do and what you can’t and try not to commit to more than that. I am still learning this one. This is totally a do as I say and not as I do situation.
  8. Don’t wallow around in your misery refusing to see a doctor. I’m going to be honest with you. Not only is honesty the best policy, but we ladies also don’t speak up enough about our health. I put on twenty pounds between January and now. I have often not felt like getting out of bed. I hide that pretty well at conference, don’t I? Sometimes I’m on social media because the only thing I feel like doing is moving my thumbs. Well, I’ve been to at least three doctor’s appointments in the past two months, and I have two more on the docket. I had a full panel from the endocrinologist, but all she could find was low Vitamin D and the fact that I’m forty-one, so she sent me to the psychiatrist. My life is too damn good to feel this damn bad, so I guess I’ll try some better living through chemistry, round two. I still say there’s something physically wrong with me, so I’ll keep going, but I have to admit my new meds *seem* to be working. I can get out of bed first thing in the morning, so that’s an improvement. As much of a pain in the ass as it is to make appointments and go to them and to keep pushing, we’ll never get well if we don’t keep showing up and advocating for ourselves. Think of it as a process similar to getting published; persistence is key. Also, you’d best be doing your regular maintenance: pap smears, mammograms, dental cleanings, etc. I’m watching you.
  9. Speaking of social media, we—and by “we” I mainly mean “me”–might need to lay off. In addition to all of the anxiety from trying to meet deadlines, we have an election year and a twenty-four hour newscycle of violence and social injustice. These things wear writers down because I swear we’re empaths—we have to be to do what we do, which is delve deep into the psyches of fictional people. I want to be informed, but there’s so much crap I can’t do anything about that I need to take a break from time to time. Also, there are some really nasty people on the Interwebs. I’m not ready to concede Twitter to the trolls, but I do think a break is in order from time to time. Then I’ll jump back into the fray and find what ways I can better fight the good fight.

So that’s my honest assessment of where I am health wise. Y’all, this is a crazy stressful job, and I keep telling myself that I don’t have a specific benchmark of success to attain. I remind myself that I’m fortunate enough to be able to write what I want to write without having to worry about the income or lack thereof. Even so, we all want to succeed. I know I do. Defining success and finding it without sacrificing our heath, is one of the greatest challenges we’re going to face.

May the odds be ever in our favor!

*For quite some time I happily blogged at Healthy Writer. I was far healthier then, let me assure you.


Author Outburst Syndrome

Y’all. I have a problem.

Okay, so I really have lots of problems, but I’m going to focus on only one today. I have Author Outburst Syndrome (AOS) thus I randomly shout things about my characters when I’m supposed to be attending to daily life.

When I was younger, I used to keep all of the information about my fictional characters locked away deep in my subconscious. Then, one day, I had what I like to call the Carpool Epiphany. I had written The Happy Hour Choir, and I had just found an agent. We were revising and getting ready to shop when it hit me. I slammed on the brakes and almost got rear-ended while shouting, “Hooooo-ly shit!”

Why would I do such a thing? Because I had been gathering wool, as writers are wont to do, and had realized that a certain character in Anderson’s Funeral Home also played a part in the The Happy Hour Choir. Then I realized that my characters in Bittersweet Creek made a habit of frequenting the bar in The Happy Hour Choir.  In other words, I had been writing a series the whole time, but I hadn’t realized it because I wrote Happy Hour in 2009. I had written the first draft of what would become Better Get to Livin’ back in 2006, and I wrote the first complete draft of what would become Bittersweet Creek back in 2007.* Blessedly, the person behind me did not hit me, and the children had already left the vehicle.

Just a year or so ago, The Mister and I were sitting at the breakfast room table enjoying a leisurely breakfast when I blurted, “Wallace Dandridge is a veternarian!” My husband replied, “Good for him?” At that point I realized that I must’ve been suffering from AOS for a very long time because he wasn’t even shaken in the least. As to Wallace? He’s been around since 2001. It took me 14 years to figure out his actual profession.

Something similar happened with the protagonist of Wallace’s story, Persephone Willis. I thought I had totally given up on that novel when something funny happened on the way to publishing Better Get To Livin’. I’ll be darned if Persephone didn’t walk into the Holy Roller and ask Presley to cut her hair. I actively fought it. I said, “No, I don’t want to tell your story! You were a problem child while I was trying to finish my thesis! Go away, Persephone Willis!” Alas, she’s in there, and she’s arguing her case to be a part of the book that will be out in 2018.

Sadly, I find my AOS is getting worse as I write, probably because I keep writing stories that are set in the same town and thus characters keep reappearing. When I was writing Bittersweet Creek, I was having a devil of a time trying to figure out what to do with the pit bulls. You see, I don’t personally believe all pit bulls are evil, but I knew the breed would appeal to my villain, Curtis. I also know he would make them mean. I needed to get the dogs away from my heroine without actually harming them. I fretted over what to do with those poor dogs for ages. Finally, I had one of my AOS moments, “Pete Gates is the local Turtleman!” 

See, that’s the sort of exclamation that could get the nice young men in the clean white coats to come take me away. Maybe, just maybe, you’re familiar with the reality show Call of the Wildman which is a show in which Ernie Brown, Jr. aka Turtleman will come to remove animals that are bothering you. I’d had a soft spot for the Gates brothers since The Happy Hour Choir, and it only made sense that Pete was the kind of guy who got along better with animals than humans. He took care of those pit bulls for me–totally reformed them if you’re wondering–and I anticipate he’ll be back to help Persephone. Even if I don’t want to tell her story. She’s being awfully pushy about the whole thing.

I tell you all of this in the hopes that I am not alone. If just one of you feels better for crazy outbursts about people who don’t exist, then my work here is done. For your amusement, I leave you with a few more of my favorite author outbursts:

“OMG, Mrs. Morris is a Baptist elder!”

“His name is Goat Cheese because he wants to raise goats!”

“[Redacted] is sleeping with [redacted]?! No, no, no, no!”

“Ginger Belmont went off and bought a big-A box of condoms?” (I blushed while writing that. I still can’t believe the woman did that.)

“Caroline Anderson is not [redacted]!” (If you’ve read Better Get to Livin’ then you know she’s up to something. I plan to tell you in a special free read.)

“She’s going to give that cat to Persephone!”

“There’s going to be a llama in the drive-through Nativity!”

So there you go. On the off-chance you thought I was normal, I have proven you wrong. I suffer from AOS, which is kinda like iOS but without all of the updates. What about you? Writers, how do you communicate with your imaginary friends? Readers, do you have these revelations about characters after you’ve read a book?

*The idea and some rough drafts for Bittersweet Creek came earlier. Not as early as 2002 but before I actually saw Sweet Home Alabama. Imagine my chagrin when a movie stole my thunder about a secret country marriage. *sigh*




What To Do If You’re. . . Stuck

I knew I should’ve made that left turn at Albuquerque. . .

Effects creepy theater announcer voice: Today the part of Lori Waters will be played by Sally Kilpatrick.

In all seriousness Lori can’t be with us today so spare a happy thought for her, will ya?

I thought I’d blog about shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. . . .no, wait. That’s not it. No Walrus and Carpenter for us today. Elizabeth spoke of scenes, and I started thinking about what to do when your scene just won’t behave.

Then I thought about all of those times my novel just wouldn’t behave.

Ever found yourself stuck in a story? It’s just not wanting to be written. After many years of trying to muscle through, I’ve finally come to the realization that often the story doesn’t want to be written because you, like Bugs Bunny, took a wrong turn at Albuquerque. For me, at least, being stuck means I’ve made a mistake and I need to back up to the last place the story felt right and start over from there.

“But, no!” You say.

“I can’t kill my hard won words,” you add.

“Don’t make me rewrite,” you cry.

Allow me to pull you close and hug you in consolation. The silver lining to this approach is that once you fix the problem, the words tend to flow again. It’s okay. You’ll make more words. Better words. If you’re really afraid of losing all of that hard work, then start a file for all of the passages you’ll end up cutting. You can place your words there and know they haven’t really left the building.*

Here’s the scary part, and I almost hesitate to share this with you for fear of traumatizing any new writers in our midst: sometimes I have to start over.

When I was in grad school, my professor asked me which draft I was on, and I was confused. What did he mean drafts? He meant how many different versions of the manuscript did I have, and I only had one version that I had been tinkering with over and over again until the story was the equivalent of mush. So, I bravely printed out the original and stacked it beside my computer and opened up a blank document and started to type.

Yes, sometimes you have to start over.

I’m on my fourth novel written for publication (probably my eighth manuscript, all told) and I’m finally

The words will flow again. Promise.

embracing this part of my process. At this point, I know I’m going to write about a third of a manuscript, realize I took that blasted wrong turn at Albuquerque, and then have to start over. This is the greatest lesson I learned from grad school. Often when writing genre fiction, the focus is on speed and that focus means you don’t even think about scrapping something written. Literary writers, on the other hand, may toil over the same manuscript for YEARS and thus may start over a bajillion times. As in all things, I think a middle of the road approach is the best one so that is what I do.

Sometimes I wonder if life isn’t a lot like writing that manuscript. I get myself into things and then have a hard time getting out of them. I ought to be more ruthless in scrapping activities and habits and going back to the beginning. I mean, Albuquerque is actually quite lovely, but I don’t want to keep making wrong turns there.

How about you? What do you do when you get stuck?


*Caveat: If you’re one of those writers who start over again and again and again without actually finishing your story, this post is NOT for you. Finish your DAMN book. You will never learn all of the lessons you need to learn until you write your story from start to finish. And that’s your tough love from Sally portion of the post.


**I’m also maritally obligated to tell you that I employed this strategy on my newest book, Better Get To Livin’, now available wherever fine books are sold. I have to tell you this because my husband would like to retire early and my son is looking at Duke and Stanford. No pressure, right?


Confessions of a House Tour Ho

Hi, my name is Sally. (Hi, Sally) And I am a house tour ho. I’ve never met a house tour I didn’t like. Seriously, I have been wracking my brain trying to think of one time I toured a house and gained nothing from the experience.


Can’t think of one.

My house tour habit is so bad that I once made my poor husband visit four houses in one day (Ralph

Emerson’s house. There are books in EVERY room. (by Daderot from Wikipedia)

Waldo Emerson’s house, the Old Manse, the Alcott House, and the Wayside Inn). Um, I might have also dragged him to the replica Thoreau cabin at Walden Pond, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and the Concord Museum. By the time we hit the Old Manse, the poor guy was punch drunk while I was stilling lapping up stories like the one about the time Thoreau made little leather boots for the chickens. He wasn’t intrigued by the fact that leather boots make chickens pass out. He said never again.

Fortunately, I have my mother as an enabler.

To give you an idea about what happens when you turn Jane and Sally loose, let me relate the tale of the accidental house tour. We were driving to Charleston and Savannah, where we would tour MANY houses, when I saw a sign for Alexander Stephens’s house. The following conversation took place:


Me: Hey, that looks cool.

Mom: Who is that?

Me: Not sure. Wanna go–

Mom: Yes.*

Me: –anyway?


So we toured the house thinking the tour guide would enlighten us as to the owner. Not so much. We got such scintillating instruction as “That there’s some forks and plates. They et on those.” True story. In the woman’s defense, she was the substitute tour guide, and it looked as though people didn’t stop by that often. Of course, that might be because, after Googling the aforementioned Mr. Stephens, I discovered we’d just toured the house of the former Vice-President of the Confederacy. Oops. I knew his name sounded familiar. If I’d done my Googling first, I might have skipped that one. Although probably not—it’s a sickness, people.

Now THIS is a house tour. (by JcPollock from Wikipedia)

Then there was the time Mom and I went to the Biltmore in August. It was hotter than blue blazes, and, after an extensive tour of the house and gardens, we decided to try out the winery. There was this ugly turtle lamp that was one hundred dollars, and I said, “That is so ugly. Who would want to pay that kind of money for a lamp?” Well, after tasting wines and champagne, I said, “That lamp’s starting to look pretty cute.”

No, you really cannot take my mother and me anywhere.

One of my favorite house tours was the unassuming home of Scott Joplin. Not only have I always been fascinated by his rags, but it was just a great little tour in Saint Louis. Bonus points because Her Majesty called it Scott Gobblin’s House.

Shakespeare’s House (1890-1905) MANY other writers have visited and left their names etched in various places. Huh-huh. I think I went upstairs to see Shakespeare’s etchings….

Just last summer I got to tour the house where John Wesley grew up as well as Charles Wesley’s home. Learning about the founders of Methodism really meant a lot to me. Same trip? Shakespeare’s boyhood home. After touring his home, I went outside to listen to the players, and they did a scene from Much Ado About Nothing. My eyes leaked a little bit. I tried to soak up all sorts of inspiration there.

In fact, I’ve made it my mission to visit the houses of writers. I’ve been to Faulkner’s House, Hemingway’s, O’Connor’s, and once we even drove by Alex Haley’s house, which I think is now open to the public. (Road trip!)

There was the time I, um, might’ve known more than the tour guide (Belle Meade in Nashville, TN) and the place that inspired my first romance novel (the Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone, AZ), and there’s another novel idea brewing, one that was inspired by a house tour. I’m not spilling that one until I get that particular book written. Be on the lookout in about three years. Don’t forget, now.

I’ll leave you with one word of warning, though. I’m not sure if I believe in ghosts—I know, I know. I

Better Get to Livin'--available May 31st! Chock-full of ghosts! Most of them are friendly!

Better Get to Livin’–available May 31st! Chock-full of ghosts! Most of them are friendly!

wrote a whole book of ghosts—but I do believe that certain places have a. . . . vibe. Usually the vibe is neutral or even welcoming, but there is one house that I’ve toured that I won’t go back to because it gave me the most serious case of the willies. That house was the Mercer House in Savannah. The room where Jim Williams killed Danny Hansford? It was all I could do to stand there while the guide finished his or her spiel. No, thank you. That house has some bad vibes.

And that, ladies and gents, is one of the things that I like to do other than read and write. Of course, once I’ve toured a house, I really need the book to read later. And I’m probably going to write a story that was inspired in some way from my tour, so….there you go. You can take the girl away from her stories, but you can’t take the stories from the girl.


* Spoiler alert—any time you ask my mom “Do you want to go–?” the answer is yes before you even add in the place.


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