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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.

 

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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.

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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*

 

 

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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?

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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.

Nope.

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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So You Want to Be a Writer…

We’re almost upon graduation season, and I’ve been thinking about those folks who want to be writers. Consider this a specialized graduation address directed to you:

My fellow scribblers, do think twice before you settle on an English major* and nothing else. Had I to do undergrad and/or grad school all over again, here are some subjects I would consider adding:

Websites and coding. I can putter around WordPress, but that’s the extent of my website creation/maintenance abilities. In my defense, the Internet of my college days was sparse, and it took the wailing mating cry of a modem and about five minutes just to see one page. None of us would’ve thought that a website would be an integral part of being an author. We didn’t have a clue just how pervasive the Internet would become

Graphic Design. I studied a smidgen of design in grad school, but it wasn’t anywhere near what I really

Hey! There might be hope for English majors after all!

need. If you, like me, are challenged in the ways of graphics, www.canva.com is a handy site. Even so, if it requires anything in the Adobe family, I have to call in experts just to help me create a font image. (That reminds me that I owe Noelle a cup of coffee.

Marketing. If you’re just entering college, maybe you should consider making a degree in marketing your Plan B. Goodness knows it would’ve been more useful than my Women’s Studies minor. Sometimes, you have work at a job you don’t really want to get to a job that you do, and Marketing falls under the heading of business which has more job openings than English. I suggest you find something you like and feel called to do (teaching was my Plan B) while you work hard to make your first dream possible.

Nonfiction and freelance articles. I’m blessed with a husband who’s making more than enough for the two of us, but there have been times when I really could’ve used an income supplement from, say, magazine articles. I’ve tried to figure out where to go and what to write, but I usually end up flailing around on the Internet finding nothing. I will say that the Romance Writers Report is a great place for romance writers to get their feet wet, and I have tremendously enjoyed my experiences with them. I’m afraid, however, that my true talent is writing things for other people for free.

hans and franzNutrition and weight training. Oh, who am I kidding? I already know what I should do. I’m just not doing it. Ditto for the exercise. Eh, keep on keepin’ on. Whether you’re writing or exercising, the one way you know you’ll never reach your goals is if you stop.

My sweet cherub seniors and optimistic second career folk, I say all of this not because an English major* isn’t useful. Au Contraire. I’m not sure the world understands just how useful an English major can be. We’re fast learners and good students of life, so I’ve managed to learn a little bit about each of those subjects above. That said, if you’re starting out, then think ahead. I’m all about following your dreams, but I’m also a big fan of eating and having a roof over your head.

**cues Pomp and Circumstance**

Whether you’re fresh from high school/college or looking to jump back in, go get ‘em!

Just make sure you have a Plan B.

 

*BTW you don’t have to be an English major to be a writer. We are heavily represented because, hey, love of language, but some of the best writers you know majored in something else. It’s never too late to become a writer, and there’s no instruction manual, either.

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Their Eyes Were Watching gods in Alabama from the Midnight Bayou while playing The Westing Game

This month we’re talking about the authors and books that inspired us to become writers. I get asked this question all the time: why did you decide to become a writer?

I didn’t choose to be a writer; writing chose me.

You could say it started with my affinity for Go, Dog, Go! At the tender age of three. Or the L. Frank Baum  and Nancy Drew books I plowed through a little later. I fondly remember Irene Hunt’s Up a Road Slowly in which the main character’s uncle is a writer who’s always working on his magnum opus. Then it was thumbing through my mother’s English textbooks to read Twelve Angry Men and “Harrison Bergeron.” Or The Westing Game or Jane Eyre or. . . Certainly my love of reading was one half of the equation.

Two writing experiences stand out as the other half. In fourth grade we suddenly had a new assignment: writing stories with all of our spelling words. I loved the challenge of fitting words that didn’t go together into a story, the sillier the better. Then in seventh grade, our gifted teacher had us write a story round robin style. While several members of the class bellyached about it, I thought it was the best assignment in the world. So did a couple of my friends. We started our own round robin soap opera and cast all sorts of celebrities as well as ourselves into a crazy world where the best trick was to put characters in a sticky situation and then pass the story off to someone else. *Ahem* It’s possible there was kissing in these stories.

When my friends couldn’t write fast enough for me, I started writing my own stories on the side, sometimes writing two or three at a time. I wrote historical, gangster stories, even an episode of The Love Boat.

This is what I did in junior high AND high school. Because I am a nerd.

By the time I got to college, I had a pretty good idea I needed a major that would put bread on the table. Despite this, I chose English. Extracurricular reading and writing took a hit in college, though, for a couple of reasons. One, I actually did all of my class reading instead of binging on Catherine Coulter and Judith McNaught, an offense fellow bad girl Tanya Michaels won’t let me forget. Two, college is a time of trying to find yourself, and I didn’t feel as though I had anything important to say to the world just yet.

Within a few months of graduating college, though, the writing bug had found me once again. I fell in
love with Nora Roberts’s Midnight Bayou. It was a romance, but it wasn’t like the ones I used to, um, “borrow” from my mother. Since I wasn’t ready to write a *sniff* literary novel, I thought I would write a romance. After all, as a summa cum laude English major how hard could that be?

The cast of Austin Powers mocks my naïveté.

So, it’s hard. It’s really, really hard, y’all. I could smack myself for ever thinking it would be easy to craft a love story that focused on only two characters and brought something new to the table while still working within the constraints of the genre.

Okay, so the next idiot who says he/she is going to whip out a romance because it can’t be that hard, I say we just challenge them. I wrote at least six manuscripts trying to write a romance and learned some very valuable lessons. The most important of these is that the best romance writers can teach you more about craft and the business of writing that colleges, mainstream writing groups, or just about anyone else. 

But I digress.

Another pivotal moment in my life came when I read Joshilyn Jackson’s gods in Alabama. I fell in love, y’all. I fell in love with southern fiction, with trying to capture the essence of that weird place where I grew up. I told myself I was going to write whatever story I wanted to write, and The Happy Hour Choir is what came out. I named my honky tonk piano player heroine after an apparently obscure hymn I grew up singing in my little church. To ensure the proper amount of shenanigans, I had her fall for the last person in the world she would want to love, a minister. With their story and that of Ginger and Tiffany, I found my voice.

My current WIP has been indirectly influenced by another novel that has inspired and continues to inspire me, Their Eyes Were Watching God. I read Hurston’s book for the first time while I was studying for the GRE Literature subject test, and I put the book down knowing I’d just experienced something monumental. I didn’t know how that book was going to change my life, but I knew it would.

Fast forward to a year or so back when I reread Heart of Darkness and then treated myself to a reread of Their Eyes Were Watching God just to redeem my faith in literature. Hurston’s prose is still gorgeous. Her characters are complex. Her dialogue reflects her anthropologist’s ear for idiom and dialect. I don’t think I’ll ever write as well as Hurston, but I’ve shifted to third person in an attempt to juxtapose my English major prose with the southern vernacular of my characters’ dialogue. Wish me luck on that one!

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The Glamourous Life of the Debut Author

the happy hour choirSo I started off last Tuesday at the Waffle House because that’s how I roll. One of the best moments of the morning was when the waitress facetiously proclaimed, “I’m living the dream!”

Me, too, sister. Me, too.

No, really. My first book had just come out. How long did it take? Three laptops, two desktops, three printers, two kids, five to seven manuscripts, and seventeen years from the time I specifically said, “I want to publish a book.”

Heady. That’s almost nine elephant pregnancies, yo. Honestly, I didn’t even know what to do with myself. Once you’ve held a goal in your mind that long, it’s surreal. Sure, I took some detours. I got married, worked at Borders then Philips. I taught school and had two kids. It took forever to finish some of my manuscripts, but I kept going. Then I entered the MAPW program at Kennesaw State and renewed my membership with Georgia Romance Writers. Both of those programs spurred me on and kept me writing.

Wanna know what goal I set for myself back when I was twenty-three and freshly graduated from college? Publication by thirty. The good Lord has laughed and laughed at that solemn proclamation. I was forty when I held my first novel in my hot little hands.

So, back to release day: I asked for glorious hashbrowns at the Waffle House. Glorious, they were. Then we went to Barnes & Noble, and I have to give kudos to the West Cobb Avenues B&N because they already had my book on the shelf. There it sat nestled between Sue Monk Kidd and Stephen King, and I had to stop and stare for a while because….wow! That’s my book baby, just chilling on a shelf with a couple of my favorite authors, you know.

Then we had to take my book’s first official baby picture at the Babies ‘R’ Us. You may not know this, but the staff at Babies ‘R’ Us don’t think too highly of someone using their sample cribs for taking pictures. Then they try to charge you for your own book when you buy a giftie for someone else’s child. True Story. 

At this point, you may be thinking, “What’s this we stuff, kemosabe?” Well, my husband took the day off to gallivant around town with me. He dubbed himself my #trustymanservant and plied me with sugar, caffeine, and alcohol all day long. Also, joining our tour was Kim, the self-proclaimed president of my fan club and my future spiritual advisor.

We went to the Book Exchange, and I signed stock. (How cool is that?) They gave me a number of launch party reservations that gave me pause. Then we checked another B&N and a Books-a-Million, both of which had not done their daily shelving yet. Also, you’re welcome BAM! I did that alphabetizing for free, and I was an honest-to-goodness bookseller so you know I know what I’m doing.

Then we went home and had a softball game and wine and pizza and talking until the wee hours of the night and solving the world’s problems. That was a great day.

Oh, but Saturday was a humbling day.

I had my launch party, and I sold out. I sold out at my launch party thanks to an incredible number of family and friends and, yes, a few folks who didn’t know me. I still can’t believe it. I still can’t believe that some people traveled hundreds of miles to come to my launch party. I was actually shy. I had a James Harvey (my dad) moment and wondered about all the fuss, but I made a note. I put all of those faces away in my heart to treasure later. If I were to die tomorrow, I could ask for no more from that book, and I could certainly ask no more of my family and friends.

Then today rolled around. Sure, I had leftover launch party cake for second breakfast, but then things got real. I had a piece of cold pizza for lunch while driving to the school to pick up Her Majesty for her eye appointment. Oh, and I’d fed the cats but forgotten to wash my hands so the bottom of the pizza held the faint aroma of dry cat food. Also, there was the classy moment where I considered tossing the crust in the school’s shrubbery (It’s biodegradable!), but I didn’t. Kids were on the playground, and I didn’t want them to think I was actually littering.

So I left it wrapped up in a Kleenex in the side compartment of my door because no one wants to put out enough trashcans anymore, and I didn’t drive through an area rural enough to toss it. The struggle is real, y’all.

Oh, and on the way out the door to the softball game, I picked a burger off one of the launch party sliders and ate that. Only I’d just helped Her Majesty get her cleats on so the burger held the merest trace of red Georgia clay dust. If I keel over, you’ll know what happened.

Did I mention I’m also wearing a T-shirt that says “cleverly disguised as a responsible adult”? Yeah, from glamming it to slumming it, that’s the life of the debut author. Oh, and thanks, Tanya Michaels for the shirt—you know me well.

I keep thinking I may wake up from this dream and find myself once again struggling to finish a manuscript or striving to find an editor or agent willing to take a chance on one I’ve written. But, nope. I’m living the dream. I know I don’t always say it well enough, but I mean it when I say thanks to everyone who helped me get there.

 

*Clearly, I need the British spelling of glamourous, right?

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My Guilty Pleasure by Sally Effing Kilpatrick

Oh, this post came at a most opportune time.

I have a book coming out in about a month, and it’s an odd hodgepodge of, well, me. You see, there’s the Sally that grew up in a small town and made very good grades and behaved very well after the age of five. (Ask my mom—she’ll tell you!) She went to a little white church and learned all of the hymns. Then she went to college and even kept going to church there. She doesn’t smoke, hasn’t done drugs, and didn’t drink until she was 21.

And then there’s the Sally who cusses like a sailor. No. There are times when sailors would probably plug their ears to escape the vitriol. I cuss when I’m happy or sad or mad. I would cuss in a box. I would cuss with a fox. Or in a boat or with a goat. . .

I think you get the picture.

This puts me in a pretty pickle because The Happy Hour Choir has some decidedly inspirational moments. And then there’s the cussing. Even worse? Bittersweet Creek is about my country farmers. They cuss even more. the happy hour choir

I know I shouldn’t do it. It’s not ladylike for one thing. It’s not what nice people do. I’m supposedly showing how deficient I am in vocabulary. *cough* Bullshit *cough* I doubt very seriously that my blue streaks make my parents or husband proud, and it’s not really a habit I want to pass on to my children.

So, I asked myself, “Self, why do you cuss so damn much?” And my self came up with the following reasons:

5. There was that boyfriend who once remarked how much he liked the fact I didn’t cuss a lot. Yeah. About that. I may or may not have exerted my freedom from him in a litany of four-letter words. Huh. I would’ve thought that would’ve worn off by now.

4. As a student of the English language, I am mystified by how creative we are in our cursing. Take any curse word, and I bet you can shoehorn it into just about any part of speech. That’s a flexibility not every language enjoys. We owe it to ourselves to explore our native language’s fluidity, don’t you think?

3. It’s fun. Phrases like “shit fire and save the matches” amuse me. Add “bitches” to the end of just about anything, and it’s hilarious. See Bitches, Teacups! Also, don’t you really want to end your yoga classes with “Namaste, bitches!” You know you do.

2. It’s cathartic. Somehow “Dadblame it!” doesn’t really help me when I stub my toe. On the other hand, a long and drawn out “Son of a bitch” really helps me manage my pain. I swear it’s true. They should do scientific studies. I volunteer as tribute.

1. Here’s the real reason: some of my favorite people in this entire world curse. My Aunt Dot tried her darnedest not to cuss in front of me with some hilarious permutations like “Bullcorn.” I was supposed to be sleeping one night when her friend Dennis was talking about almost getting into a traffic accident and made the story more hilarious while repeating, “F*ck a duck!” over and over again. (I sometimes make this one “Fornicate with aquatic fowl” in an attempt to make it a bit more Twitter friendly. In related news, I’m also a fan of “defecate adobe.”) And, finally, a shout out to my father who has always enjoyed adding a blue word here and there to elicit a giggle. One day—as an adult, mind you—I said a certain word, and he responded with “You’ve got stuff in your mouth that I wouldn’t hold in my hand. Where’d you learn such things?” I narrowly avoided going all 80s PSA on him and shouting, “I learned it from listening to you, Dad!”

At any rate, if all of those people are cursing, I don’t think cursers go to hell. I could call out some closet cursers, but I won’t. I’ll just say that little pitchers may have big ears, but they also have big eyes. If I’ve been emulating Aunt Dot and Dennis and Daddy, it’s not really because they cuss. No, it’s because I like the way they treat other people and that shouldn’t be forgotten just because they have a colorful vocabulary.

So, cuss all you want, bitches!*

Work Bitch

 

*As the pragmatic feminist I am, I understand that the word “bitch” can be problematic. Personally, I like to feel as though I am appropriating it. Already I don’t feel the sting when it’s hurled at me as an insult. And if I don’t feel the sting, then your insult hasn’t succeeded.

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Maybe I’m a Good Girl Gone Bad?

I think a corollary may be that good looking shirtless guys are always appreciated. I’ll have to wait for some feedback on that one.

Finally. Someone asked me to join their club. Even better, it’s a BadGirlz club!

I’m so happy to be a part of the Bad Girlz blog, and I can only hope I don’t get kicked out for my goody-two-shoes ways. I mean, I do cuss–LIKE A SAILOR–but I also sing in the church choir. Then there’s the fact that I teach Sunday School, and I used to teach high school. Even worse? I’m the daughter of a teacher. We all know teachers’ kids and preachers’ kids go one of two ways. Yeah, I was the straight and narrow kind.

I want to be a bad girl. Really, I do, but I fidget when characters in books and on television are making stupid decisions. I have been known to actually yell, “Make good choices!” Oddly enough, they never listen.

Sexy corn. I can’t make this stuff up, and I’m a writer.

Then there was the time in my misguided college years I tried to dress up as a hooker for Halloween. I think I was the most conservatively dressed person there. I used my own closet instead of going to a costume store. Heck, now you can be a sexy ear of corn if you want to.* I mean, you can. I’d probably come out looking like the farmer’s wholesome daughter.

I did take pole dancing lessons. In related news, I still can’t dance much less dance sexy.

Yay! It’s about a bad girl….who ends up playing piano in a church. *face palm*

Maybe my novel is about a bad girl? In The Happy Hour Choir, Beulah swears and plays hymns in a bar. That’s pretty bad, isn’t it? Then she falls for a minister. Hmmm.

I did skip class once with my bestie from high school! Kinda. Okay so we technically had permission to be off campus for a yearbook photo and the daring thing we did was go through the McDonald’s drive thru WITHOUT GETTING PERMISSION FIRST, and I was the one driving. Then we sat in the auditorium lobby and ate McDonald’s instead of going back to the cafeteria. *gasp* Then one of our teachers and the guidance counselor found us and told us we were going to be suspended and lose our Valedictorian and Salutatorian statuses and we would RECEIVE ALL ZEROES FOR ALL THE DAYS WE WERE ABSENT. And my life flashed before my eyes! And then that teacher and the guidance counselor burst out laughing because they were playing a cruel, cruel practical joke on us. Janette and I were not amused.

I’m not as bad as Janette, though. She’s the one who tore one of those “Do not remove” tags off a

As a side not, I’m talking about my friend Janette–not Bad Girl Jeanette.

hotel pillow once. I know because I was there.

You know, I’m trying. We went to Coyote Ugly a few years back, and I tried to dance on the bar. I couldn’t get to the bad because the place was so crowded.

I did get a speeding ticket right before Nationals in Atlanta. That’s pretty bad, right? What? No. Oh, okay.

So that happened.

Oh, hey! I wore a corset to Moonlight & Magnolias that time. That counts, right?

Fine. I guess I’ll have to stick to cussing as my major vice although I did drink straight from the champagne bottle on my fortieth birthday so maybe there’s hope yet that I’ll learn to be bad. Maybe all these BadGirlz will rub off on me.

Stay tuned for some posts with writing and reading and whatnot, but in the meantime I’m going to try to get a handle on this being bad thing.

 

 

 

 

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